FEMA to release new version of flood maps for six N.J. counties

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is set to begin releasing an updated version of its flood maps for the Jersey Shore in the coming days or weeks. These maps, which outline a community’s risk for flooding across different areas or elevations, are also used to set flood insurance rates.

Though a specific date has not been finalized, FEMA officials say the maps are on schedule to be released in mid-June and will be rolled out by county as the maps become ready.

Atlantic, Cumberland, Ocean, Monmouth and Hudson will be the first to receive the maps.

Previous version

FEMA last released a version of these maps in December, though they were not yet complete, so homeowners with damage from Superstorm Sandy would be able to understand how their elevation requirements might change when the maps were finalized.

However, the maps released last winter lacked wave-action data, or how waves move across the land.

Many homeowners believe that, without this data, they were wrongly classified in velocity zones, areas where waves 3 feet or higher could hit their homes. The designation would make their homes more expensive to insure.

The updated maps will incorporate all the necessary data.

“We’ll be very confident in the maps we put out there,” said FEMA’s Mike Foley, a deputy director for mitigation operations in New Jersey. “Every person’s issues might not be resolved, but in regards to the science behind it and the modeling that we did, we’re very confident in the maps we put out there.”

First update in decades

Before FEMA began this round of updates — an effort that predates Superstorm Sandy — the maps had not been revised for 20 or 30 years, according to Foley.

Therefore, when the maps are finalized, some homeowners will now be labeled as being at a greater risk for flooding or more vulnerable to waves than previously.

This may be upsetting and increase their flood insurance premiums, says Foley, but he said he believes the maps will be accurate and people should know what their real risks are.

More expected in August

The new maps still have a long road before they are finalized.

Yet another version of the maps will be released in August. It will improve the maps’ presentation and legibility, but will not change their data or risk classifications. Homeowners and interested parties will then have 90 days to make comments or suggest corrections.

FEMA doesn’t expect the maps to be used for insurance purposes until 2014, as mandated by last summer’s Biggert-Waters Act, also known as the Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012.

Since the 1960s, the federal government has provided flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program because most private insurance policies specifically exclude flood coverage due to the high risk of flooding in the U.S. and its costly damage.

Currently, about 20 percent of people insured through the NFIP receive subsidized rates from the government.

However, due to the increased frequency and severity of flooding in the last 10 years, Congress felt the NFIP program was financially unstable.

Claims from Hurricane Katrina, for example, tallied $16 billion. By passing the Biggert-Waters Act, Congress renewed the government’s commitment to offer flood insurance for five years, but ended subsidized rates.

Homeowners who are at risk for flooding will eventually pay rates that reflect the full value of their risk.

Congress could delay rate increases

These new rates will be phased in over five years starting in 2014 for most policyholders who are insuring their primary residence. However, rate increases for those with second homes may already be taking effect. Additionally, businesses and properties that have sustained severe repeated flooding in the past could begin to see increased premiums starting in October. Rates can increase up to 25 percent a year.

However, there are efforts to delay rate increases further — in effect to further reform the previous flood insurance reform.

Last week, the House of Representatives approved an amendment attached to a Homeland Security funding bill that would delay implementation of the section of the law instituting rate increases for homeowners whose elevation requirments have changed due to remapping.

Similar measures have been proposed in the Senate.

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, with support from senators in New Jersey and New York, has been trying to get the Senate to vote on legislation that would delay any flood-insurance increases until after FEMA completes an affordability study.

She cautioned that the insurance increases are going to be too much and too fast, which would devastate home values and middle-class communities.

To date, Landrieu had proposed amendments on two separate bills.

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania refused to consent to a vote for the first amendment.

In response, Landrieu stated she wasn’t going to let any Republican amendments go to a vote until she was granted a vote on her amendment. 

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