Cape May County Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton was selected to represent the region on President Barack Obama’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force Advisory Group.

The task force was established in December by executive order and allowed for an advisory group that could invite elected officials from the region to participate.

Shaun Donovan, director of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, asked Thornton to help advise on rebuilding strategies.

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The advisory group is expected to be in place for six months, with the first meeting having been held on March 15 in New York City. Future meetings will be held at locations in New Jersey as well as Washington, D.C.

Thornton, speaking at the freeholder meeting on Tuesday, said he would use the position to fight new federal flood-control regulations that could stifle rebuilding efforts. He referred specifically to a federal bill that passed last year that would increase flood insurance premiums at the shore but also on the Great Lakes, Mississippi River and other flood-prone areas.

Thornton said the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act would make flood insurance so expensive people could not afford it and thus could not get mortgages.

“It’s amazing this legislation ever passed. In all my years, this is the most devastating legislation I’ve ever seen for Cape May County. It will depreciate property values in all coastal communities. We’re going to fight the battle. I’m not sure we’re going to be successful,” Thornton said.

The federal government is also pushing higher elevations for shore construction. Thornton said this presents problems for houses built at ground level on small lots. He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been questioned about this.

“The only response we got from the FEMA people is that’s the law. I hope we prevail but I’m not sure we will,” Thornton said.


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