New Rules Announced for Homeowners Using Sandy Disaster Aid to Rebuild

April 8, 2013

Homeowners and businesses using federal disaster aid to rebuild from Superstorm Sandy will have to take additional flood protection measures, top federal officials announced last week.

The new standard, announced on April 4, will require that residential, commercial or infrastructure projects using federal aid elevate their structures 1 foot above the latest Federal Emergency Management Agency recommendations or, if elevation isn’t possible, relocate or flood-proof boilers or other utilities a foot higher than the latest federal guidance.

“We need to recognize the reality of rising sea levels and extreme weather events,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said at a news conference in front of an aging electrical substation that was flooded by Sandy last October. “We can do better than simply react from one storm to another.”

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, appearing with LaHood, said the task force he leads that is overseeing the federal disaster response examined 10 years of FEMA flood mitigation efforts to reach the new standard. He said stricter standards have proved to be cost-effective, particularly along the Gulf Coast where there has been a demonstrable difference between buildings that took stricter flood prevention measures after Hurricane Katrina and those that didn’t.

“We know that success won’t be defined by building things back the way they were,” he said.

The new standards apply to homeowners and businesses who are spending 50 percent or more of the market value of their property on rebuilding and who are using Sandy disaster aid.

The FEMA maps already have been a source of consternation and some confusion in New Jersey, where many homeowners found themselves suddenly designated in hazardous zones when the preliminary flood maps were issued in December.

Gov. Chris Christie has said he expects FEMA to revise those maps over the next few months. FEMA head Craig Fugate told a congressional hearing last month that they could change as well.

The new designations have a price tag attached: Homeowners in newly hazardous zones could pay up to 10 times their current flood insurance rates if they don’t elevate their homes.

Rebuilding infrastructure will be a costlier proposition. It is estimated that rebuilding the Kearny substation that LaHood and Donovan toured on April 4, which affects the busy Northeast Corridor rail line, will cost about $25 million. That is in line with previous estimates to rebuild a nearby substation that flooded and cut power to New Jersey Transit’s train service into Hoboken for months.

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