Cape May and Atlantic counties are hiring the Coastal Research Center at Richard Stockton College to review the new soon-to-be-released federal flood maps.

Cape May County Freeholder Director Jerry Thornton said a joint agreement has been worked out, with each county splitting the cost. The Board of Freeholders recently approved paying the center $4,729 for its half of the work.

Thornton said coastal geologist Stewart Farrell will be heading the review.

“He’s an expert in tidal flow, wave actions and things like that. He will look at the maps and advise us what to do,” Thornton said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency rushed out advisory maps following Hurricane Sandy as the agency worked on the first major revision to the maps in a quarter century. The revision had been under way before Sandy.

The maps will be the basis for Flood Insurance Rate maps due to come out in 2014. The maps could call for elevating buildings along the coast, and not doing so could make flood insurance more expensive. This could impact the ability of people to buy flood policies and secure mortgages, and therefore has created quite a bit of concern within the shore real estate industry.

Thornton said he expects preliminary maps to come out for Atlantic County in July or August and for Cape May County in October. After they come out, there will be a chance to argue for revisions.

“We just want to make sure the information we’re getting from the federal scientists, and they’re supposed to be the experts, is rational. We weren’t happy with what the advisory maps,” Thornton said.

Farrell said FEMA has been seeking input from the shore towns, such as where new bulkheads have been constructed, where protective plantings have been installed, areas of new construction and other details.

Farrell said the key question is whether strict zones along the back bays in the advisory maps will be relaxed. He said the advisory maps called for elevating buildings as high as 15 feet above base flood elevation and using piling to support houses. He said these zones extended from one to six blocks off the bay in some towns and included mainland communities facing bays.

“We can compare the advisory maps to the preliminary maps and see how much the bayside V (velocity) zone changed. That’s the key,” Farrell said.

Thornton, however, supported FEMA’s decision to come out with advisory maps to prevent people whose homes were damaged by Sandy from rebuilding at the old elevations.

“Under the circumstances, it was the right thing to do. It would have been an outrage if people started to rebuild and found out they were out of compliance,” Thornton said.

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