CAPE MAY — City Council will consider amendments today to its flood damage-prevention ordinance that would force some new construction and major restorations to adopt higher elevations.
The exact effects would be determined by the zone in which a property is located under the Advisory Base Flood Elevation, or ABFE, maps released following Hurricane Sandy by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The city plans to conform to the elevations called for in the advisory maps knowing that FEMA is due to release permanent maps later this year that could change things again.
Mayor Ed Mahaney said the final maps likely will identify a high-hazard V-zone, where the highest building elevations will be required, and an A-zone, where construction can be at a lower level but possibly higher than current requirements.
It will be FEMA’s first update to the federal flood maps in about a quarter-century, and most people are expecting them to call for higher BFEs. The city generally requires new construction at 10.5 feet above sea level. The advisory maps are estimated to require construction on average 2 to 4 feet higher in flood-prone areas along the shore.
“We expect elevations could change as the process goes forward, but the size of the zones will be reduced, especially the V zones,” Mahaney said.
Cape May and other shore towns are preparing to argue against mapping that is too strict. Mahaney said the proposed ordinance was done in concert with other shore towns in Cape May and Atlantic counties, and follows a model ordinance put out by the state Department of Environmental Protection. Gov. Chris Christie already moved to implement the new ABFEs into state flood regulations by emergency order.
Under the local ordinance, higher elevations would be required in flood zones for new construction or building improvements whose cost equals or exceeds 50 percent of the market value of the structure. For residential construction, the ordinance generally calls for the lowest horizontal structural member to be elevated to the ABFE plus 2 feet.
The ordinance, which is up for a public hearing and council vote this afternoon, attempts to conform to recommendations from FEMA for a number of reasons. Mahaney said it helps keep the city and individual property owners eligible for state and federal grants or low-interest loans; it makes sure the town and individual property owners remain eligible for insurance from the National Flood Insurance Program; and it helps property owners get a 15 percent flood insurance cost reduction under FEMA’s Community Ratings System.
FEMA’s CRS program looks at local flood ordinances along with beach replenishment, seawalls, dunes, snow fencing, bulkheads, storm-water pumping systems and other flood-control measures to set discounts.
“We’re doing this to protect the interests of the city and mostly the property owners,” Mahaney said, noting that higher construction should provide greater protection.
“It’s a better situation to protect lives and property. In a direct hit, we would still be at the mercy of the storm,” Mahaney said.
The ordinance includes language that reserves the city’s right to appeal when the final maps are released. Mahaney said other beach towns, including Margate, Ventnor, Longport, Brigantine and others, are doing the same.
“We are cooperating but do not compromise any opportunity to appeal determinations along the way,” Mahaney said. “Cape May is putting together its own data, researched and scientifically based, retained by our engineering firms and academic institutions like Stockton College’s Coastal Research Lab, and providing it to FEMA to address the zones that have been created.
“The ABFEs were done by computerized modeling and did not take into account some obstacles and structures built to preclude flooding.”
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