Last month, the Federal Emergency Management Agency released advisory flood maps covering 194 municipalities in coastal areas in New Jersey. Here’s a look at what they mean, in question and answer form.
Q. What do the maps find?
A. Based on data gathered before Superstorm Sandy, the maps show that the risk of flooding is worse than believed when the current maps came out in the 1980s. That’s without taking into account projections that sea level will continue to rise at an accelerating rate. High-water marks in coastal areas from major storms, the kind expected once every 100 years, could be 1 to 5 feet higher than previously expected.
In addition to finding water levels could be higher, the maps also expand the area where forceful waves are considered a risk.
Q. What does that mean for homeowners in coastal areas?
A. It means that current building and zoning codes are inadequate in some areas. Some structures should be built higher off the ground, and additional measures should be taken to make them less prone to damage from waves and other rising water.
Q. Can this be mandated through the map?
A. No, but here’s where it gets tricky. The map released in December is an advisory to help property owners, builders and government agencies know where FEMA is headed. FEMA says that later this year, it will unveil its official flood insurance map. That map is expected to become official in 2014. It will be based on the same data used in the advisory map, but there could be some changes. It’s the map that will be used to set flood insurance premiums.
Q. Will there be financial incentives for using the advisory maps?
A. Yes. The federal flood insurance program run by FEMA offers lower premiums to owners of homes and businesses in communities that adopt the advisory maps and use them to establish building codes.
Q. Have any New Jersey communities adopted the maps?
A. Some towns have had meetings to discuss the maps. But officials with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and FEMA said no towns have told the state that they have adopted the maps.
Q. Is there financial help to raise homes to higher levels?
A. Yes. Participants in the national flood insurance program can get up to $30,000 to cover the cost of bringing homes into compliance with new regulations.
Q. Is that enough to cover the costs?
A. For older, smaller homes, the $30,000 is enough, said Dave Fisher, a senior officer at the New Jersey Builders Association and executive vice president at K. Hovnanian Homes. For bigger, older houses, though, it will not cover the entire cost.
Q. Should homeowners raise their buildings even above the new recommended levels?
A. Fisher recommends they do, in part because the maps could change in the future, mandating even higher elevations and partly because homeowners can save on insurance by going higher.
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