Brick Township Councilman John Ducey will introduce a resolution at the next township council meeting calling on the federal government to allow residents to oppose their designation on flood zone maps before the prescribed public comment period begins this summer.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency released advisory flood zone maps shortly after Superstorm Sandy struck. The maps have greatly increased the number of Brick residents whose homes are in flood zones and, combined with a decision made last summer to de-subsidize the federal flood insurance program, will require those residents to either raise their homes or face five-figure annual flood insurance bills. Homes in flood zones with mortgages are required to carry the insurance.
Though many expect the flood zones – especially the number of residents in 'V,' or velocity zones, which require costly piling foundations to be installed – to be scaled back when preliminary maps are released this summer, Ducey said the federal government should allow appeals now.
There is already a public comment and appeal process once the preliminary maps are released, but that might be too late for some residents who need to rebuild their homes.
Compounding the issue, Ducey holds, is that Gov. Chris Christie has adopted the advisory maps, thus requiring them to be used by those who want to rebuild, even though they could change in the future.
"In the meantime, if people want to rebuild before that, they are stuck with the current flood zone designations," said Ducey, in an e-mail to Brick Patch.
That has left residents in a lurch, either having to spend the extra money to comply with the advisory designations, or put off rebuilding their homes until after the preliminary maps come out this summer, Ducey said.
"Neither option is fair to our residents," he said.
Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis, however, called the resolution "political theater."
"I think what the councilman is missing is the power of a municipality of 85,000 people," said Acropolis, who believes the municipality as a whole has more power to oppose the maps rather than individual residents. "As soon as the maps are introduced in August, it starts an 18 month process where the municipality, along with residents, can get things overturned."
Acropolis said the township will have a formalized process to oppose the maps and help residents file "Letters of Map Adjustments," or LOMAs, as the federal process calls for.
"I think that anyone who has been involved in the process knows we have been fighting the V zones, and fighting to get this changed," said Acropolis, who accused Ducey of favoring the resolution for political reasons.
"This is the first peep I've heard from Councilman Ducey on this," said Acropolis. "Last week, they tried to slip through an ordinance that would put a hardship on many, many people in Brick Township."
Acropolis was referring to the township demolition and debris ordinance debate from the Feb. 5 council meeting, where the council's Business and Finance Committee, of which Ducey is a member, initially favored placing liens on homes that were slated to be demolished under a federal program until Acropolis strongly objected, and the council unanimously voted in favor of a different funding mechanism.
Ducey said in his e-mail, however, that the resolution was squarely aimed at helping residents rebuild, and support for his efforts has come from New Jersey's two U.S. senators.
"For many middle class homeowners, especially those who just lost everything to Sandy, these additional costs will simply be too much to bear," said Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, in a joint letter to FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. "Families would be forced from their homes, resulting in gutted neighborhoods, and threatening the existence of some communities."
Lautenberg and Menendez also requested a meeting with Fugate. (The full text of the letter is attached to this story near the photo box at the top-right of the story.)
Ducey said the resolution is the first of its kind in the country.
"If they are allowed to appeal immediately they can have their zone determined and know exactly what they need to do to rebuild," he said.