Officials in two southern Ocean County towns are partnering to make sure initial base flood elevation maps from the Federal Emergency Management Agency are corrected before it’s too late.
Little Egg Harbor and Stafford townships could be adversely impacted if the proposed maps — and the V zones they include — are accepted later this spring. Officials in both towns are working together to make sure that doesn’t happen.
“We’re all separate towns, but we’re really like one big neighborhood,” said Little Egg Harbor Township Assistant Administrator Michael Fromosky.
“FEMA is the 300-pound gorilla in the room, but we’re fighting back against them with the help of everyone — and everyone is pulling the oar in the same direction,” Stafford Township Administrator Jim Moran said.
In Little Egg Harbor, about 4,000 homes were damaged during Hurricane Sandy. Neighbors to the north in Stafford Township saw damage to almost 4,600 homes.
“Everything I am doing — every study we have done — I send the information out to the other mayors and say, ‘Here’s the data I have.’ The best way to fix this is to have strength and unity from all the towns that were impacted,” said Stafford Township Mayor John Spodofora.
Officials in the two towns are meeting regularly with engineers, scientists and other experts as they compile their case against the proposed maps and V zone designations, Fromosky said.
The information that has been compiled is regularly forwarded to FEMA, as the wait continues for final maps to be released.
“We talk to Stafford weekly — and sometimes it’s a couple times a week. We’re usually all on the same conference calls and at the same meetings, because we have a lot of the same issues,” Fromosky said.
Officials from Little Egg Harbor, Stafford Township and Long Beach Island met with the Governor’s Office last month. Fromosky said it was one voice for the southern part of the county.
Little Egg Harbor’s Mystic Island section and Beach Haven West are basically sister colonies and experiencing the same possible hardships with the proposal of V zone designation, Fromosky said.
“These are all mostly small houses built on slabs. They are bungalows — weekend houses. It’s affordable to have a house on the shore. That’s the way Beach Haven West and Mystic Island were developed,” he said.
As part of FEMA’s new maps, portions of the township — particularly the Mystic Island section — have been placed in the highest risk zone, with a 4-foot increase to the base flood elevation.
“We have houses on the bayfront that will probably stay in a V zone, but there are houses a half mile away from the water in V zones, too, so how they can come up with that is beyond me,” he said.
Spodofora said V zones in the municipality — similar to those in Little Egg Harbor — are incorrect and illogical.
“Criteria for there to even be a new map released, based on FEMA’s own protocol, is that they have to perform a new wave analysis study, and when we testified at the State House last month and asked FEMA if they performed a wave analysis and they said they did not,” Spodofora said.
In December, the advisory maps that were released dictated new required flood heights, but did not include data to explain the new velocity zones, because a wave analysis was not completed.
In Stafford Township, there are areas that are mirror images to those in Little Egg Harbor, where velocity zones were included on the maps in areas that are more than 10,000 feet from a body of water.
Little Egg Harbor Deputy Mayor Ray Gormley said the township’s engineer, Jim Orris, has been working with Stockton College coastal sciences expert Stewart Farrell as well as a Rutgers University experts to assess the velocity zones.
In addition to Stafford Township, Little Egg officials have had an ongoing conversation with Brigantine, which is closest to them in sea level, Gormley said.
But Gormley said it’s also a waiting game right now until FEMA’s sneak preview of the maps is unveiled later this summer.
“Our goal in this area as we work together is to try to shrink at least 50 percent of the V zone. If we can do that, we’ve accomplished a lot,” Gormley said.
In January, an order from Gov. Chris Christie adopted advisory base flood elevation maps for rebuilding standards to assist homeowners as they moved forward with rebuilding. But officials said this did not help homeowners whose properties are located in new velocity zones.
Spodofora said he projects more elected officials statewide to come together in larger numbers soon because of the continued uncertainty.
“We all have to wait to see what FEMA’s science comes up with, and they have said they expect the V zones to change. By May, if we feel they’re not correct and the science they used based on our experts is not correct, we’ll do whatever we have to do to make sure it’s corrected,” Fromosky said.