Menendez, Lautenberg Caution FEMA Against Making Dramatic Changes to FEMA Base Flood Elevation Maps

Menendez, Lautenberg Caution FEMA Against Making Dramatic Changes to FEMA Base Flood Elevation Maps

Senators Urge the Agency to Find Balance Between Identifying the Real Risk of Flooding and Ensuring Middle-Class Families Can Stay in Their Homes

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) today expressed their concern about the impact that dramatic changes to base flood elevation maps by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would have on New Jerseyans who are still struggling to recover and rebuild after Superstorm Sandy. FEMA released Advisory Base Flood Elevation (ABFE) maps for ten New Jersey counties in December and while these ABFEs are not finalized, FEMA's regulations for assistance and the state's adoption of the maps for these ten counties give them the force of law.

In a letter to FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, the Senators noted these ABFEs represented a dramatic increase over the current levels and would require homeowners to spend tens of thousands of dollars to elevate their home with pilings, which is an expensive project, or be subjected to increased flood insurance premiums.

"While we fully support the use of accurate and current information to determine and inform residents about flood risk, we would urge FEMA to exercise caution when making these decisions because of the extraordinary impact they are having on homeowners," the Senators wrote. "For many middle-class homeowners, especially those who just lost everything to Sandy, these additional costs will simply be too much to bear. In order to avoid putting unnecessary burdens on these families, we are asking you to give homeowners the ability to immediately challenge the accuracy of the ABFEs. With the state's adoption of these standards, homeowners cannot afford to wait until the Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) are released and eligible for appeal."

On February 1, 2013, the Senators called on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to make additional resources available to New Jersey homeowners who are in the process of rebuilding after Superstorm Sandy and have found their homes subject to new elevation requirements under FEMA's interim floodplain maps.

Full text of the letter is attached and below:

February 5, 2013

Dear Administrator Fugate:

We are writing to express our concern regarding the impact that dramatic changes to the Base Flood Elevations will have on the ability of New Jerseyans to rebuild after Superstorm Sandy and afford flood insurance. While we fully support the use of accurate and current information to determine and inform residents about flood risk, we would urge FEMA to exercise caution when making these decisions because of the extraordinary impact they are having on homeowners.

As you know, as part of the process to update Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs), FEMA released Advisory Base Flood Elevation (ABFE) maps for ten counties in New Jersey in December. These ABFEs represent a dramatic increase over the current base flood elevations and are putting significant burdens on homeowners at a time when they can least afford it. For example, some areas of the state will see up to an eight-foot increase in their base flood elevation. This change will require homeowners to spend tens of thousands of dollars to elevate their home or be subjected to skyrocketing flood insurance premiums. For those that are re-designated into the V zone, they will have to rebuild with pilings - a much more expensive proposition. Some of the residents who will now have to deal with this added challenge believe that they have been erroneously placed in the V zone. In addition, the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 [P.L. 113-2] provided billions of dollars for mitigation and beach enhancement projects, which, when completed, can significantly decrease the flood risk to local residents. While the ABFEs are not finalized, FEMA's regulations for assistance and the state's adoption of the maps for these ten counties give them the force of law.

For many middle-class homeowners, especially those who just lost everything to Sandy, these additional costs will simply be too much to bear. Families would be forced from their homes, resulting in gutted neighborhoods and threatening the existence of some communities. These maps will undoubtedly have a real and direct impact on people's lives, which is why it is so important that FEMA gets this process right. In order to avoid putting unnecessary burdens on these families, we are asking you to give homeowners the ability to immediately challenge the accuracy of the ABFEs. With the state's adoption of these standards, homeowners cannot afford to wait until the FIRMs are released and eligible for appeal. We also request a meeting with you to discuss these issues in more detail and work together to find a common solution.

As we continue along the road to recovery from the worst natural disaster in New Jersey's history, it is important to remember that we will only be successful by working together and addressing the concerns of the hardest hit communities. We are hopeful that this issue will be resolved in this spirit so we can find a balance between identifying the real risk of flooding and ensuring middle-class families will be able to stay in their homes. Thank you in advance for your prompt response.

Sincerely,

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