AVALON - When Hurricane Sandy ravaged the coast, the federal government recommended increasing building heights. The borough adopted standards one foot higher than the recommended new base flood elevations.
That extra foot for different zones in the borough wasn't just for good measure. Avalon, like a growing number of shore towns, wants to gain points under a federal rating program that rewards flood mitigation measures with lower flood insurance premiums for the town's residents.
Now, as a result of its new standards, the borough received one of the best flood ratings in the state. When it goes into place in October, the borough's improved Class 5 rating means a 25 percent discount on flood insurance premiums for all residents, Mayor Martin Pagliughi said Thursday.
"We'll save well over $1 million. In my old house, the discount will save me $650 a year in flood insurance costs," Pagliughi said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, awards points under a voluntary incentive-based program called the Community Rating System. The CRS program encourages towns to exceed National Flood Insurance Program requirements, since it will result in less damage and fewer claims after storms.
Avalon has received points for increasing building heights; getting easements on the beach; maintaining a large dune system; having a flood warning system for residents; completing beach replenishment projects; installing 14 pumping stations to remove water; requiring flood vents on homes to prevent houses from being pushed off their foundation; maintaining drainage systems; setting up an emergency evacuation center in Cumberland County; and preserving open space.
There are 52 municipalities in New Jersey in the CRS system, and Avalon in 2005 became the first in the state to get to a Class 6 rating, which required at least 2,000 points and brought a 20 percent discount on flood insurance premiums. Shortly after Avalon did, some other towns won the rating - including Brigantine, Beach Haven, Long Beach Township, Stafford Township, Margate, Sea Isle City and Longport.
The borough since then has been working to get to 2,500 points and the Class 5 rating that brings a 25 percent flood insurance discount. While the new ratings don't take effect until October, Pagliughi said Avalon now meets the points to reach Class 5 and expects it to be made official by September. Several other area towns may also make a jump in the ratings, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.
There is currently only one Class 5 in the state, the borough of Pompton Lakes, and no towns have a better rating. New Jersey has no Class 1 towns, which requires 4,500 points and brings a 45 percent flood insurance discount. Each jump in the ratings shaves 5 percent off flood insurance costs.
Pagliughi said Avalon isn't done yet.
"We started this 15 years ago. We first strived for the 5 percent discount, then 10, 15, 20. Now, we're shooting for 30 percent," Pagliughi.
The points get harder to come by. Pagliughi said the borough hired a coastal engineer who is currently looking into modifying dunes, groins and T-jetties, installing tides gates on the bay that allow rain water out but prevent salt water from coming in, and other measures. The borough already releases tide reports to the public but Pagliughi said they plan to put tide gauges throughout the town on telephone poles.
"We think we can get to Class 4 in the next few years," Pagliughi said.
The savings will become much more significant in the future as a 2012 federal law, the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, will phase out federal flood insurance subsides for most shore properties, dropping them by 25 percent a year in the coming years.
Sal DeSimone, the borough's flood plain manager, said a typical policy today might be $2,000 a year so a 20 percent discount would be $400. DeSimone said he has heard insurance could go as high as $10,000 per year. That puts the savings at $2,000 per homeowner at the old rating and $2,500 at the rating that comes out in October.
Water will come into any shore town if the storm is big enough. DeSimone said towns have to plan so it causes the least damage and drains out of town quickly. Avalon has been working on that for years.
"In Sandy and Irene, we basically had no flood damage. Only two houses were damaged and they were both built at grade," said DeSimone.
New construction here is already going in at the new building heights recommended by FEMA, plus one extra foot, and more flood-control measures are planned.
"They don't want to give away money. The CRS manual is about seven inches thick. They're constantly changing it and making it harder to get points," said DeSimone.
Pagliughi, who directs emergency management for Cape May County, advises towns to get active with the CRS program.
"It's only going to get worse with Biggert-Waters. Budget so much per year. Some things can be done administratively but some will cost some money. Hazardous mitigation grant money is available," Pagliughi said.
Besides saving on flood insurance, Pagliughi said there are other benefits. The obvious one is less flood damage. He said it also helped improve the borough's bond rating as Standard and Poor's gave the town a "platinum AAA rating" partly due to its flood-control efforts.
Contact Richard Degener:
CRS rankings for southern New Jersey
Class 5 with 25 percent flood insurance discount includes borough of Pompton Lakes.
Class 6 with 20 percent flood insurance discount includes Avalon, Beach Haven, Brigantine, Long Beach Township, Sea Isle City, Margate, Stafford Township and Longport.
Class 7 with 15 percent discount includes Cape May Point, North Wildwood, Ocean City, Ship Bottom, Stone Harbor, Surf City, Upper Township and Ventnor.
Class 8 with 10 percent discount includes Barnegat Light, Cape May, Harvey Cedars, and Wildwood Crest.
Class 9 with 5 percent discount includes Atlantic City and Greenwich Township in Cumberland County.
Class 10 with no discount but active in the program includes Barnegat Township, Mullica Township, Tuckerton and West Wildwood.