There just aren’t a lot of answers for Sea Bright residents these days.
Faced with the monumental task of rebuilding following Hurricane Sandy, residents are desperate for some clear direction. They’ll even tell you as much. What they’re finding, however, are levels of misinformation, confusion, and a future that, at this moment, is more than a little muddled.
In the gymnasium of Oceanport’s Wolf Hill Elementary School Thursday night, about 200 Sea Bright residents gathered for the town’s first public information session in hopes of finding the answers they’re looking for regarding Sandy.
Answers for the standing room crowd, largely, were not available.
Instead, officials promised to keep residents in the loop and an active part of the restoration process moving forward.
“We need your input as we develop our recovery plans,” Mayor Dina Long said in a brief introduction before turning the microphone over to officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
One of Sea Bright’s primary issues in its road to recovery is elevation.
FEMA recently released its Advisory Base Flood Elevation maps in an effort to help give towns and their residents an indication of how high its eventual flood insurance maps will recommend buildings be elevated. The new maps include three zones, V Zone, A Zone, and B Zone, each of which is related to potential flood damage, of the three V being the most susceptible to flood damage. On average, the ABFE’s recommend that residents elevate their homes two to three feet more above sea level than their current height.
Though the new maps are only advisory – the insurance maps aren’t likely to be introduced until 2014 at the earliest – residents looking to FEMA to help cover the cost of elevating their homes can’t until the town adopts the new heights. That, Long said, is something that needs discussion.
“We need to make a decision,” she said, noting that the town is considering adding two feet on top of the advisory flood elevations. “We need to make it quickly."
There are stumbling blocks, however. Councilman Read Murphy said he disagrees with some of the zoning of the maps. If Sea Bright were to demand a change, their could be delays in funding assistance, which would slow necessary work from getting done.
Then there’s the issue of flood insurance, the cost of which is expected to rise dramatically. With FEMA still paying the country back for a loan it took out to satisfy flood insurance claims from 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. House of Representatives signed legislation that will dramatically increase flood insurance rates. Homeowners with properties below FEMA’s flood elevations, according to Disaster Recovery Expert Charles Vickery, could end up paying tens of thousands of dollars each year to insure their homes.
“Regardless of whether your house was substantially damaged (by Sandy), you need to consider elevating it,” he said.
But when it comes to home elevation grants, there was little indication of when qualified homeowners could expect funding to become available. Called Increased Cost of Compliance coverage, the grant funding is also only available if you had flood insurance on your home and haven’t made the repairs already.
Like so many other things, for Sea Bright residents it’s wait and see.
Residents are also dealing with mixed messages from officials at various levels of various agencies. Karen Finkelstein said the home she shares with her husband, Howard, has been evaluated seven different times since Sandy. She said she’s been unable to find out what adjusters have inspected and what they’ve determined. When she inquired about getting a peak at one of the reports, something she should have been able to do with a simple inquiry, Finkelstein said she was told she’d have to fill out a Freedom of Information Act request.
Frustrated at the lack of access to information, the Finkelsteins applied for an SBA loan. Though interest rates of 1.688 percent were touted at Thursday’s meeting, Howard said he was offered an interest rate of 3.8 percent.
“We’ve been through many levels of hell,” Karen said of life for she and her fellow Sea Bright residents following Hurricane Sandy.
Despite the confusion, Long said the town will continue to work with both FEMA and Sea Bright residents to ensure that restoration will happen, sooner rather than later.
But as far as getting definitive answers, the residents will just have to wait.