Coastal residents still struggling with how to rebuild their storm-damaged homes may want to postpone their decisions until later this summer, when the Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to release updated flood-elevation maps.
Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin said the state expects there will be changes to the controversial advisory base flood maps the state adopted as the standard for rebuilding following Hurricane Sandy. Martin, speaking on a conference call to reporters Tuesday, said changes are unlikely to affect the new elevations for houses, but are likely to scale back how many are included in high-risk velocity zones. The velocity zones have the most stringent standards for rebuilding.
“Most people can wait for the new maps to come out from FEMA,” Martin said. “In a lot of cases, I would probably recommend that people wait until the next maps come out” before making rebuilding decisions.
Gov. Chris Christie adopted the advisory maps as the state standard for rebuilding in January in an emergency order made final late last month. The new regulations automatically roll in the newest FEMA data as new maps are released.
While many homeowners are struggling to decide whether to raise their houses to meet the new flood map standards, Martin said, only those houses that suffered damage from Sandy worth at least 50 percent of the pre-storm value of the building are required to rebuild to new heights. But, homeowners are also encouraged to make changes to fit the FEMA guidelines to avoid paying looming flood-insurance increases.
Martin also said the state expects to receive between $400 million and $500 million in federal Hazard Mitigation grant money sometime this summer. The state is working on finalizing its plan for how it will spend that money, but Martin said he expects that $250 million will be allocated to buy houses that have been damaged repeatedly or are in vulnerable positions. That money could pay for up to 1,000 properties damaged during Sandy, he said.
Martin said he and the governor are focusing buyout efforts on entire neighborhoods or streets where all homeowners volunteer to sell their houses to create larger spaces to reduce flooding risks. “A house here, a house there doesn’t do that,” he said.
Counties and towns all submitted their requests for projects they want to be considered under the hazard mitigation grants, including raising houses and buying out flood prone properties. The state is processing those requests and expects to submit a plan to the federal government sometime this summer, Martin said.
A group of planning and environmental organizations, including the American Littoral Society, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and New Jersey Future, requested Monday that DEP put that document up for a public comment period to increase transparency, according to a letter sent to the state.
Martin said Tuesday that the document will not be opened up for public comment, he said, because the plan’s contents come from residents, towns and counties.
Among the ideas that DEP is considering for the money is grants for land use and emergency planning in coastal towns, Martin said. But, he said, no decisions have been finalized.
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