Freeholders Urge FEMA To Move ASAP To Amend Advisory Base Flood Elevation maps
Homeowners and business owners in limbo until the federal agency releases final numbers, officials say
Ocean County residents and business owners cannot wait months for FEMA to release amendments to the agency's controversial advisory base flood elevation maps, Freeholder Director John P. Kelly said.
Kelly, county and municipal officials went to Trenton on Wednesday to meet with state and FEMA representatives to try and get some answers.
Other than assurances there would be amendments to the maps, they got few answers, only that possible amendments would be released in "...June, July, August..." Ocean County Administrator Carl W. Block said at a board caucus meeting today.
"In the meantime, real estate will die," Freeholder John C. Bartlett Jr. said.
The high cost of elevating homes or facing skyrocketing flood insurance costs will leave some properties "unbuildable or unsaleable," Bartlett said.
"My fear is that these maps will do more damage to our property values than the storm did," Bartlett said. "It's going to crush real estate values...It can be as catastrophic as the storm was. We all know people who are just up against the wall trying to figure out what they should do."
Bartlett put preliminary county-wide Superstorm Sandy damage figures at $2 billion. That's a blow to the county's tax base, he said.
Property owners along the oceanfront and waterfront traditionally pay more in taxes. But that burden will shift to those on the mainland, Bartlett said.
"We are taking steps to lessen the effect of this tax base loss on the evenutal budget," he said.
FEMA officials said they would be making amendments to the advisories, Kelly said.
"The real problem...is the timeline for that," he said. "FEMA has said they know they will be reviewing and reviewing downward. People want to get back in their homes. Everyone is saying the maps are not what will be the final maps."
But waiting for possible changes keeps homeowners and business owners unsure of what to do next.
Kelly recalled the three-day Nor'easter in March 1962 that devastated Ocean County. Property values plummeted, then picked up again over the years.
But the new advisories and higher insurance costs will affect not only oceanfront and barrier island real estate values, but waterfront areas on the mainland. That will make it less accessible to blue-collar and middle income residents, Kelly said.
"The blue-collar residents will not be able to afford it," he said.
Freeholder Joseph H. Vicari said FEMA should look at each municipality to determine how the advisories will affect an individual town.
"I think they should look at it again," Vicari said. "One rule does not fit all in this particular situation."
"We are not going to compromise people's safety," he said. "But take a look at it community by community and make readjustments."
Municipal officials from Brick Township, Berkeley Township, and a number of other municipalities also made the trip, Kelly said.
"There was no answer today," he said. "A lot of nodding of heads, but the maps are still the same. This will go through a number of (freeholder) directors. The answers and solutions are years away. We will be dealing with the aftermath of this storm for years to come."