Strict new standards for rebuilding houses damaged during Hurricane Sandy are now state law.
The controversial new regulations, which require that houses that were substantially damaged during the storm be rebuilt to meet elevation standards set in Advisory Base Flood Elevation maps plus an additional foot, were published Monday in the New Jersey Register, the final step in the months-long process.
Local building officers are the ones who declare whether a building has been “substantially” damaged, which means the cost to repair is at least 50 percent of the building’s pre-storm value.
The advisory maps, which were released in December by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, added about 33,000 homes to coastal flood zones. The average increase for base flood elevations was between 2 feet and 4 feet, though some areas had increases of between 1 foot and 6 feet and some areas had no increase at all.
FEMA is expected to release preliminary flood maps this summer, which will likely contain significant changes to the velocity zones, FEMA and state officials have said. The agency released the advisory maps, which were essentially drafts, to help homeowners with rebuilding decisions.
Coming changes to the National Flood Insurance Program means that homeowners who don’t meet the new standards by the time the maps are formally adopted could see their annual flood insurance bills skyrocket to tens of thousands of dollars.
Gov. Chris Christie issued an emergency order in January setting the rebuilding standard, saying then the measure would eliminate uncertainty. However, homeowners along the entire New Jersey shore found themselves thrust into a new level of uncertainty because the maps, released by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, more than doubled the highest risk velocity zones. Houses in velocity zones must be built on piling foundations and must meet other strict building codes because the houses have to withstand 3-foot waves on top of a flood.
The new regulations also allow for “wet floodproofing” in commercial buildings only, which means the structure can withstand the force of floodwaters and is allowed to flood, while protecting utility and electrical equipment and minimizing damage, according to the rule published Monday. However, DEP staffers have said this method of meeting the new state standard could result in a very high flood insurance bill since the buildings would still flood.
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