FEMA Flood Maps Engender Backlash

Monday, April 01, 2013

Advisory flood maps issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency over the past four months were supposed to help people figure out how to rebuild higher and stronger. But in some parts of the region, the maps have sparked a backlash because they will potentially require thousands of homes to buy flood insurance that did not need to before.

The new flood maps, if approved, would add more than 65,000 structures in New York and New Jersey to the 100-year-flood zones—areas that FEMA believes face a 1 percent-a-year change of flooding. Everyone in those zones is required to get flood insurance if they have a federally-backed mortgage.

Many homeowners are finding fault with the maps, particularly those who find themselves for the first time in “V zones”, areas within the flood zones that are subject to the velocity of waves. To qualify for low insurance rates, homeowners in V zones must not only build above the flood elevation, but also put their houses on stilts or use other methods so that the foundation can withstand wave action. 

The entire island of Broad Channel, Queens, in the middle of Jamaica Bay, is considered a V zone, according to the advisory maps. But Dan Mundy, the president of the civic association there, says there is no way the western side of the island could be hit by waves.

“All the hurricanes and nor’easters in this area come up in a counter-clockwise rotation,” Mundy said. “The wind always comes out of the East.”

Similarly, George Kasimos, a Realtor in Toms River, New Jersey, saw his house placed in an advisory V zone even though it is on a lagoon on the inland side of Barneget Bay. He formed a group, Stop FEMA Now, that has more than 2,000 Facebook members and is getting bigger and bigger crowds at gatherings.

“We don’t understand,” he said, “how a wave is going to miraculously come over the barrier islands, over a shallow bay, in front of a couple other bulkheads and then hit us with a three-foot wave.”

Within a few years, homeowners in V zones face insurance premiums as high as $31,000 a year if they do not elevate their homes or conform to wave-resistant building techniques. And that’s in part because the new maps come at the same time that insurance premiums are increasing 20 to 25 percent a year, thanks to federal legislation that’s supposed to reduce taxpayer subsidies to the troubled National Flood Insurance Program.

New York lawmakers have sponsored a bill that would slow the rate of increases in the premiums to just 5 percent a year for the next four years.

“Constituents have come up and talked about how they’re trying to rebuild their lives, that they lost everything in the storm,” said Congressman Gregory Meeks, a Democrat who represents Broad Channel and who co-sponsored the bill.

The new maps still have to be finalized and are not likely to take effect for 18 months or more. Already FEMA seems to backing away from some of the findings. Last week, the head of FEMA’s risk analysis division, Doug Bellomo, said the method for estimating how high the waves would be in certain areas may have been “overstated.”


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Comments [5]

savorysouth from gulf coast

If you want to see the long-term effects of FEMA elevation requirements for building or re-building compliance in coastal areas take a trip to the postKatrina areas along the Gulf Coast. Drive anywhere along the coastal area from Lake Catherine area of eastern Orleans parish (New Orleans) to the sandy beach areas around Pascagoula, MS and there will be lot after overgrown lot that once were someone's primary residence, weekend place or fishing camp. Yes, many have rebuilt but many more have not and never will. The huge increase in windstorm insurance will price many out and now with the likely increase of NFIP insurance will price out even more.

Often there is no rhyme or reason for a FEMA decision. We live less than 1,000 ft from the beach. I can see the gulf and hear it as I type this. Our home survived H. Camille but was vaporized by H. Katrina. We were in a FEMA NFIP "B" zone (yes a "B" as in Boy because according to mapping we are on a ridge so no have a flood risk). As such were not technically required to have flood insurance. We did fortunately have flood insurance and rebuilt to the newer higher standards that were issued after Katrina. But because we are in a "B" zone, we did not qualify for NFIP's ICC (Increased Cost of Compliance) funds to offset the increased costs to rebuild. This even though we had paid towards this aspect of our premium for the entire time we have had a policy. Again, we are 1,000 feet from the beach but not a flood risk according to FEMA.

Wind & flood in '05 $ 500 & 300; wind & flood now $ 3,200 & 450. Yes, $ 3,200 annual windstorm insurance. Can we say a pretty big increase! Wind was $ 5,800 yr but reduced because home was built with 140 mph design wind velocity with engineering report to support that. Once the new FEMA NFIP rates go in, we will probably see the same dramatic increase in flood. Just how many people with average homes can afford the required and staggering cost of home related insurance? Unless you can private pay to rebuild and do not get SBA or a mortgage or a grant, you have to get the insurance. It will price out the average homeowner.

Apr. 15 2013 02:51 PM
Jim Demers

Just a glance at the map tells you the wave danger is near zero within Jamaica bay. The wind needs miles of deep open water to build up large waves; on Jamaica bay, there is not enough depth or distance to generate anything but relatively small whitecaps. Unless the Rockaways are obliterated, ocean swells simply don't reach the inner islands.

It looks like FEMA just looked at elevation above sea level, and nothing else, in assigning "V" areas. Sheer idiocy on the part of whoever came up with the maps. Now that it's been pointed out, perhaps they'll get someone with a bit of intelligence, and knowledge about ocean waves, to re-do it. The water-rise risk, of course, will remain substantial, and residents can't ignore the fact that they're going to be inundated on a regular basis.

Apr. 11 2013 05:38 PM

Audio fixed. Thank you AnneNJ! Previous audio included whole Life After Sandy package, leading with WNYC's Jim O'Grady's story on MTA fixes at Broad Channel, as well as FEMA flood maps. Hear Jim's story here:

Apr. 08 2013 04:29 PM
AnneNJ from NJ

The attached audio is about the NYC seawall, not the flood zones.

Apr. 02 2013 08:28 PM

Wall Street billionaires are buying up all the homes in desirable coastal areas. Then they will pay the politicians to change the laws to make it almost impossible for the public to have access to the beach. For example (like they do in Malibu) you have one area where the public can park cars, with only a few spaces available, but a really long walk to get to a point where you can access the beach. That pretty much leaves out old people, or families with small children. It's yet another way the rich are stealing the resources of this nation.

I would not be surprised to find brokers with "secret" buyers moving into coastal areas in the northeast and offering to buy up the homes. They will then bribe the politicians to get a law passed paying for the cost of building an elevated foundation, for example, and will take control of the coastal area.

It's always the same thing. There is a problem in society. Some people ask "how can I help?" Other people ask: "How can I manipulate these poor victims and take advantage of this disaster in a way that helps me to get money." Read about the Haiti earthquake "charity" funds managed by bush and clinton being used to help billionaires build hotels for the international jet set. Read about the local villages being wiped out in tsunami regions and replaced with more hotels for the rich.

Apr. 01 2013 12:22 PM

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