One of the more encouraging developments in the post-Sandy era is the creation of the Coastal Coalition - a group of mayors and other city officials from approximately 20 towns up and down the coast.
Immediately after the storm and the release of new "advisory" flood maps by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, many public officials were more interested in attacking FEMA than understanding the process. Now these mayors seem to get it. They have launched a coordinated effort to seek needed changes in the flood maps through the formal process by which these maps will be finalized.
Lost in all the outrage over the new flood maps - which call for drastically higher building elevations and that expand so-called velocity zones, where FEMA says 3-foot waves are possible and buildings must be on piling - is that FEMA wasn't acting arbitrarily. Sandy just happened to hit as the years-long process for issuing new flood maps was unfolding.
FEMA does not even usually release "advisory" maps, which actually come one step before "preliminary" maps are issued. And granted, the issue got a little more confusing when Gov. Chris Christie adopted the advisory maps statewide. But the release of the advisory maps and Christie's executive order have made it clear that building at the shore is going to go higher - the only question is how high and where.
Clearly, the advisory maps aren't a finished product. They don't consider any hard structures that would block wave action, and the members of the Coastal Coalition are now confident that the V zones will be scaled back as the process continues and those hard structures are taken into account.
So what happens next? Sometime this summer, FEMA will formally present new preliminary maps to the public. That will trigger a 90-day appeal and commentary period when public officials and individual homeowners can present science-based evidence to dispute particular flooding risks.
FEMA will then attempt to resolve the appeals before declaring the maps final, after which there will be a six-month period for communities to adopt or amend floodplain-management regulations to reflect the final maps.
Will everyone be happy once the process plays out? Unlikely. Folks in Louisiana are still arguing with FEMA over new flood maps, eight years after Hurricane Katrina triggered changes there. An April 2 headline in New Orleans' Times-Picayune newspaper: "Not just Louisiana: Proposed flood regulations anger New York, New Jersey residents, too."
But as the members of the Coastal Coalition apparently realize, the best way to fight injustices and inaccuracies in the advisory maps is to gather the science-based information needed to challenge them.