From its humble beginnings — a few concerned residents sitting around a table in a small sub shop — Stop FEMA Now, the grassroots organization opposed to the federal agency’s flood maps, has grown and continues to attract crowds at meetings throughout the state.
Now it’s time for the second phase.
Prior to a meeting in Atlantic City to discuss flood maps with residents of yet another county, Stop FEMA Now founder George Kasimos said the causes continues to grow. More and more residents continue to discover that their homes are now listed in FEMA’s flood zones, he said, and now they’re looking for answers. And ultimately, they’re looking for a way to fight back.
The group’s Facebook page has grown from just a few hundred likes to more than 3,400. Stop FEMA Now’s website has reached more than 20,000 people, with visitors spending an average of three minutes on the site, a detail that indicates that those who do stop by are there to learn.
Stop FEMA Now has held meetings throughout the state, and Kasimos said meetings in New York City are in the works. Cumulatively, thousands of residents affected by the flood maps have come out to find answers and seek a community of people who are also struggling to assess the new reality.
“I’m not surprised,” Kasimos said of Stop FEMA Now’s growing popularity throughout the state. “As we looked into the stats we realized it’s not just people here because of (Hurricane) Sandy. This is no longer just a Sandy issue; this is a Biggert-Waters Act issue. I know more people are going to come, they just don’t know about us yet.”
The Biggert-Waters Act, passed by Congress just last year, seeks to end flood insurance subsidies and resolve some of the federally managed flood insurance program’s ever-growing debt. It also means many residents who currently have flood insurance policies could face exorbitant premiums.
FEMA’s flood maps, currently known as Advisory Base Flood Elevations, are the first step towards the National Flood Insurance Program’s nationwide remapping effort, which will eventually determine how much in flood insurance affected residents will have to pay.
Residents in V and A Zones, which are prone to flooding during storms like Sandy, must elevated their homes, or else face paying insurance premiums as high as $30,000 a year. It’s not just a New Jersey problem, Kasimos said, though it’s become a more immediate problem as residents continue to rebuild, but a problem throughout the nation. Coastal communities throughout the country are finding themselves facing the same problem.
The advisory maps are just that, advisory. FEMA officials have promised some changes, though Stop FEMA Now isn’t looking for minor adjustments. The maps need to go, or at least be seriously augmented, Kasimos feels. And Stop FEMA Now is going to keep on fighting until those changes are made.
Kasimos is certain Stop FEMA Now hasn’t reached critical mass yet. Many residents either don’t know about the remapping or aren’t aware of just how much it’s going to cost them.
“If the (new insurance premiums) were delivered to everyone at the same time, there would be riots,” he said.
The focus now is on spreading the word, beyond Ocean County, beyond New Jersey. Kasimos said Stop FEMA Now has gotten several high profile endorsements and its growing ranks have forced local, State and federal officials to respond, or at least acknowledge, the organization.
Kasimos said he believes FEMA’s new maps will impact about 25 percent of the country’s citizens. Biggert-Waters will not only devastate his neighborhood, but neighborhoods throughout the nation. He said a coalition of Gulf Coast states has been in contact with him about the fight and now he’s looking to develop a joint New Jersey and New York summit aimed at getting the cause national media attention.
It’s been a hectic ride, but Kasimos said he believes Stop FEMA Now will get the results its been looking for. It’s the reason he’s decided to dedicate nearly all of his free time to setting up meetings, polling local residents, handling conference calls with groups outside of the state, and engineering what he hopes will be positive change for everyone facing an uncertain future.
“I made a decision about six weeks ago,” he said. “When you’re getting press calling you every day, you need to make a decision. We’re still rebuilding our home and I still need to provide for my family and have a life, but I made a commitment. I’m going to assist this cause.”