STAFFORD TOWNSHIP — To get FEMA to pay for a multimillion-dollar community center rebuilding project, the township must show that Hurricane Sandy caused more than 50 percent damage to the Mill Creek Community Center.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has determined the Mill Creek Community building suffered less than 50 percent damage in the hurricane, so the township’s team of engineers now must show FEMA the agency is wrong as they seek $1.2 million to cover the cost of rebuilding.

“We could have a two-year fight ahead of us before this is resolved. It’s now 18 months after Hurricane Sandy and a town without the benefit of a community center is not fair to the community,” Township Administrator Jim Moran said.

At stake is 90 percent of the rebuilding costs — the portion FEMA would cover — to replace Mill Creek Community Center. The facility was flooded more than 2 feet when Sandy struck Oct. 29, 2012.

Since then, the township has seen a loss of $200 million in ratables in addition to its community center, Mayor John Spodofora said.

The township is planning to build a smaller center at its Mill Creek Road property and a larger facility to be used as a community center on East Bay Avenue at the site of the former town hall.

But the plans for the two centers, with a price tag of $2.3 million, hit a snag with the recent award of only $140,000 from the National Flood Insurance Program. That’s less than a donation of $250,000 from the Alec Baldwin Foundation to be used toward the project. That settlement will cover the costs of mechanical system damage at the building and came from a $500,000 flood-insurance policy.

“I believe we’re going to get something, there’s no question in my mind. All of our engineering firms are in our corner as far as this assessment and our estimates,” Spodofora said of the national flood insurance. “In all fairness, they’ve been collecting premiums from us for 25 years and never had a problem; it’s a joke for them to say this.”

Meanwhile, the township has bonded for the construction of the center in the Beach Haven West section, and that bond will be a temporary note for the next three years, Spodofora said.

If the township succeeds in its estimate submission to FEMA, the bond would be reduced by how much money the federal government provides, he said.

The decision from NFIP will not cover structural damage of the community center on Mill Creek Road because the carrier determined it was caused by the liquefaction of the soil, Moran said.

Township officials said it’s the 2 feet of flooding during Hurricane Sandy that caused the floor to buckle and undermine the foundation.

FEMA has disagreed with some of the township’s figures in their current estimates, Moran said.

“We have three estimates prepared by professional firms that demonstrate we have exceeded the 50 percent mark. FEMA has yet to rule definitively as to whether or not they are going to accept this,” he said.

Township architect Vince Sobona and engineers CME are working on the FEMA appeal spearheaded by the Louis Berger Group, which  specializes in FEMA cases. The group will help the township capture all of its damage correctly to submit to the state and FEMA to be reimbursed appropriately, said Teresa Carter, technical director for Disaster and Emergency Management Programs.

Carter said she has toured the Mill Creek Community Center with FEMA and the state to survey the damage and see the high-water marks from the storm. She said the damage cost estimate prepared for FEMA did use the correct estimate tool. A new project worksheet will be submitted to FEMA. If FEMA does not agree then, an appeal and arbitration would follow.

Spodofora said the township is responsible to supply residents with public health and safety, including programs that contribute positively to quality of life.

“We need to do things like making sure we have good recreation, and if you look at the number of clubs using the community center, we don’t even have enough facilities in the town,” Spodofora said. Contact Donna Weaver:

609-513-6686

@DonnaKWeaver on Twitter

Five years as Ocean County bureau chief, 12 years as regional news editor (not continuous), 10 years as copy editor (also not continuous), all at The Press of Atlantic City.