Changes to flood maps, insurance rates cloud rebuilding decisions at Jersey Shore

    Many homeowners on the Jersey Shore are struggling to decide what to do with their storm-damaged homes.

    New federal flood insurance policies and flood maps are complicating an already gut-wrenching decision to repair, rebuild, or flee.

    One of the people facing that quandary is Hilary Langer, an architect who lives in Manayunk.

    About a week ago, Langer was busy planning the rebuilding of the first floor of his Seaside Park summer home. He gutted it after flood waters reached the windowsills, and was thinking of waterproof building materials for the first floor.

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    “Whenever a flood comes along, we will wash it down, we’ll hose it down, we’ll have minimal loss,” Langer said.

    Langer envisioned concrete block walls and elevated electrical systems.

    “This was our initial plan,” Langer said. “And then we received information that flood insurance rates may escalate, they may get to a point where affording them will become difficult.”

    Langer had caught wind of changes Congress made this summer to the national flood insurance program, changes that removed subsidies for homes built below current base-flood elevations. Now, if owners of low-lying homes like Langer rebuild their Shore homes to their pre-storm conditions, insurance rates are likely to skyrocket.

    After hearing that news, Langer started looking at elevating his whole house up to six feet. Or, another, harder choice: leave the Shore.

    “That is another option, selling the house.,” Langer said

    Up and down the Shore, many are wrestling with this decision. It has been made even more confusing by new advisory flood maps released by FEMA. They raise the base-flood level in many communities on the Shore anywhere from one to five feet. They do not influence insurance rates, but flood maps using the same data eventually will. The advisory maps, once finalized, will influence construction codes along the Shore.

    FEMA changes may put home modification beyond reach

    Toms River Township engineer Robert Chankalian hopes the final versions of the maps will be a bit more lenient than the temporary ones.

    “I agree with FEMA, we needed to raise the bar a little bit,” Chankalian said. “I just think it might have gone a little too conservative this time.”

    The new maps place many homes near the bay in his township in velocity zones, meaning if the new levels are adopted, homes there will need to be built on stilts or pilings to protect them from waves. The changes are prompting varied reactions, Chankalian said.

    “If you have an old bungalow, you’re not going to put a $100,000 foundation under a $30,000 house,” Chankalian said. “Some people … may opt to just knock the house down and rebuild from scratch. Some people don’t want to build at all. Some people think it’ll never happen again. “

    Langer said his idea to possibly sell his shore property has to do with more than rising insurance premiums.

    “We just don’t know how bad ocean rise and global warming is going to be,” he said.

    He worries what would happen if he raises his house, but the rest of the town and its streets stay at the same level.

    “What would be the point in having a house on stilts to which you can only get to by boat?”

    The advisory flood maps are expected to go into effect in 2014 after a public comment period.

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