A huge crowd of people from all over the state gathered at a Thursday night NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) public hearing in Long Branch to protest the potential adoption of FEMA's advisory base flood elevation (ABFE) maps as the new elevation standard for the the state.
The crowd, mostly comprised of unhappy homeowners impacted by Hurricane Sandy, sounded off at Long Branch City Hall on the contentious issue.
"The thought of increasing flood insurance premiums into the tens of thousands of dollars is daunting," Toms River resident Margaret Quinn said.
Quinn lives in the Silverton section of Toms River, and said her house was more than 50 percent damaged. She, like so many others, has been displaced by the hurricane, and is now faced with rebuilding questions and concerns.
"I was in an A zone and I'm now in V zone," Quinn said.
Construction standards in a V-zone are more stringent in order to account for the increased risk of damages from storm surges, a DEP release said.
"The DEP adopted on an emergency basis and is now proposing amendments to the Flood Hazard Area Control Act rules relating to the construction and reconstruction of buildings in flood hazard areas based on the most recent and reliable flood elevation data," the release said.
Most in attendance agreed that the ABFE maps are flawed.
"Establishing the flood zones is not an exact science ... but the flood V zones and A zones are riddled with errors," said George Kasimos, a Toms River resident and member of Stop FEMA Now. "We need to get together and not let the federal government push us around."
A common concern is that lack of affordability, between elevating homes in the specified zones and/or paying the high insurance premiums, is that middle- to low-income residents will be forced to move.
In Rumson's West Park section, which was clobbered by Sandy, many homes have been elevated and many are also on the market.
Kasimos also argued that seniors and disabled veterans should be exceptions to the new flood zone rebuilding standards.
"How do you expect them to be able to raise their homes or afford to do it," Kasimos asked.
Kathy Serra, of Lavallette, is a member of the West Point Island Civic Association, and said many residents in her neighborhood do not want to raise their homes.
"Most people are not in favor of elevating their homes as they cannot afford to do that," Serra said. "Elevating our homes or paying $30,000 in flood insurance is something nobody wants to deal with."
Some municipalities in the state, such as Long Branch, have adopted FEMA's ABFE maps and are requiring new construction or reconstruction within the flood zones to be three feet higher than the base flood elevation.
The DEP is encouraging towns to adopt the ABFE maps because it makes them eligible for Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) assistance and other federal mitigation aid.
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club, said the NJDEP needs to take an "overall holistic approach" to determining the new flood bases.
"We need to take a look at how to restructure our coast," Tittel said. "We want to keep families on our coast ..."
Tittel said dunes should be restored and that some homes should be pushed away from the water's edge instead of elevated.
A South Seaside Park resident said there are many low income families in her area and that they could be forced out because of high insurance costs.
"If they are forced to sell, either major developers or the very wealthy will take over the area," she said. "If the current maps are finalized, the demographic in the area will be dramatically changed."
The current ABFE maps could change again by the end of this year, so residents are faced with the decision of waiting to rebuild or using the current maps as a standard for elevating or flood-proofing their homes.
"FEMA anticipates some changes to the ABFE maps for both elevations and zones and plans to release the updated flood maps this year," a release from the NJDEP states. "These revisions will further fine-tune coastal flooding elevations as well as areas that in A-zones and V-zones."
The federal government's process to finalize the maps could take up to two years.