The Brick Township council took the first step toward adopting advisory base flood elevation maps issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency at its meeting Tuesday night.
The maps, which can be found online, were released in the afermath of Superstorm Sandy, though they were in the works long before the storm struck the Jersey Shore. Eventually, they would have come into effect even if Sandy had never materialized.
The state as a whole adopted the maps last month under an order from Gov. Chris Christie. The township, following that announcement, was effectively obligated to follow, not just for rebuilding purposes but so residents could take advantage of government grants which would help them comply.
"By adopting the maps by ordinance, our residents are eligible to apply for Increased Cost of Compliance grants in order to comply with [the new regulations]," said Elissa Commins, the township engineer.
Christie said adopting a statewide code would speed up Shore area reconstruction after the storm, but the real-world ramifications of the map adoption may accomplish the exact opposite result, many now say.
What The Maps Mean
Residents faced with rebuilding their homes that were more than 50 percent damaged in Sandy must now comply with strengthened elevation and – for those in velocity, or 'V' zones – foundation requirements. The ordinance introduced Tuesday also calls for one foot of "freeboard," above and beyond the base flood elevation requirement.
In many areas of Brick, homeowners will be required to raise their structures several feet, and those in 'V' zones will be required to install costly piling foundations instead of concrete or cinder block foundations.
For residents whose homes were undamaged by the storm – or not damaged to the tune of 50 percent – the maps will still have a major impact. Those residents, many of whom are obligated by their mortgage company to carry flood insurance, will see their rates rise to as much as $30,000 or more per year if they do not comply on their own.
For those residents, Hazard Mitigation Grants and Community Development Block Grants may be available in the future.
The expected increased cost of flood insurance stems less from the maps themselves and more from the fact that federal lawmakers voted last spring to end subsidies to the National Flood Insurance Program.
"I was paying $384. Now, if I spend $50,000 to raise it, it's still going to go up to $3,500," said Councilman Domenick Brando. "It's an absolute money grab, what they're doing to the people here."
The bill, passed by Congress in May and signed into law by President Barack Obama soon after, was attached to a transportation measure that also included controversial continued funding to student loan programs. Few recognized its ramifications to Shore homeowners until after Sandy struck, though the high insurance rates would have come even if the storm had never hit.
The maps are still subject to change. The state – and the council, on first reading – adopted advisory maps. FEMA is expected to release its preliminary base flood elevation, BFE, maps this summer. Those maps will most likely take into account structures such as homes, docks and other features which will alter where the 'V' zones are located and reduce their footprint on the map.
"We're optimistic that the preliminary mapping will have a wave analysis that defines the true scenario during Sandy, Irene and other storms," said Commins. "It's my understanding that the advisory maps that were released do not have a complete wave analysis."
Commins said the maps that have already been released are "strictly based on the contour of the land," and do not take into account bulkheads, jetties and other houses that could reduce wave action.
"I am hopeful for June," said Commins, of when the next phase of maps may be released.
Then, a 30 day public comment period begins followed by a 60 day appeal period. After that, an act of Congress puts the final maps into effect, which could take up to a year.
A scaled back 'V' zone may provide only limited relief to homeowners, however, since elevation requirements will still apply.
The township council also adopted, on first reading, a companion ordinance that modified local land use laws so residents will be able to raise their homes to the required elevation without having to obtain a variance from the Board of Adjustment.
That ordinance also included permission for elevated mechanicals such as air conditioning units, as well as decks. In flood zones, the height requirement of a home will be whatever the traditional height limit was in a particular zone, but with the FEMA required elevation plus one foot of freeboard tacked on.
Both ordinances require a public hearing and second vote before they are finally approved. The hearing and second vote normally take place at the council meeting following the introduction vote.