FEMA letters on new flood maps cause confusion for towns looking to rebuild after Sandy
One month after FEMA released advisory flood maps and urged New Jersey towns to require that homes be built with higher elevations, the agency has asked municipalities to seek state advice before adopting the maps.
A Federal Emergency Management Agency letter sent to South Jersey towns Tuesday and revised Thursday has caused confusion among local officials, some of whom were ready to move forward.
In Ocean County, Little Egg Harbor Township had introduced an ordinance raising building elevations. Stafford Township was poised to introduce a similar measure before the letter arrived, Stafford Mayor John Spodofora said.
“All these weeks we wait for the new maps to come out, and then they do and they tell us to adopt, and then we get an email telling us not to adopt them,” Spodofora said. “There are so many people waiting to rebuild. Someone needs to make a decision.
A FEMA official reached Thursday evening by The Press of Atlantic City said the letter sent Tuesday was in error and has since been corrected. A new letter was sent to officials Thursday with clarifications, FEMA spokeswoman Mary Margaret Walker said.
Stafford Township Administrator Jim Moran said the township received the update late Thursday afternoon.
The new letter corrects a paragraph that stated: “We do not know how extensive the changes to the ordinance might be, or what guidelines might be issued, so we recommend that communities postpone the adoption of the Advisory Base Flood Elevation (ABFE) maps until State guidance has been released. If your community is considering adopting the ABFEs, but has not yet done so, you may want to consider passing an official, temporary building moratorium until this time.”
The new paragraph states:
“The state is currently reviewing the model floodplain ordinance and will be releasing their guidelines and ordinance language shortly. If your community is interested in adopting the Advisory Base Flood Elevation maps, we recommend that you contact the New Jersey State National Flood Insurance Program Coordinator's Office, which will be able to provide you further direction.”
But some towns had started the process to follow the earlier suggestion, including Little Egg Harbor Township, where the Mystic Islands section was added to the new maps’ highest risk zone, which includes a 4-foot increase to the base flood elevation.
Last month, the Township Committee introduced an ordinance to adopt the new base flood elevation maps shortly after they were released, but on Jan. 10, the committee held a second reading of the ordinance and it was tabled.
“From what I am hearing, there are going to be a lot of challenges to the flood maps, and maybe that’s why they’re doing this with postponing. A lot of people are not going to accept what FEMA is putting out at this point because there are inconsistencies,” Committeeman Edward Nuttall said. “We tabled it because we decided it was premature because the FEMA regulations are subject to change. Why would we adopt something that will eventually change anyway? It’s not finalized and might work a hardship on some of our citizens looking to rebuild.”
Although the maps were released last month as information only, Ryan Pietramali, risk analysis branch chief for FEMA, said last month that municipalities were told they could adopt them into their zoning codes.
“And then we had the governor tell us yesterday that he was going to make changes, too,” Spodofora said. “I am so frustrated. I am beyond frustrated. New information comes out that contradicts the previous information that comes out. What are we supposed to do? This storm happened in October, and it’s January. This is ridiculous.”
During a town-hall meeting Wednesday in Stafford, Gov. Chris Christie expressed his frustration concerning the flood advisory maps and said he would make a decision about them as early as next week.
The advisory maps released last month will not be finalized for two years, and Christie said he is tired of waiting.
Tuckerton’s Borough Council has not moved forward with adopting the maps and doesn’t plan to until there is a directive from Christie, Mayor George “Buck” Evans said Thursday.
“We have not done anything to adopt those maps because we knew those maps were not going to be put into place until 2014 or 2015. There are not enough answers right now,” Evans said.
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