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Property Owners Impacted by Hurricane Sandy Seek Answers at FEMA Workshop

Many concerned about need to elevate homes due to new flood maps

Kathy Hamm's home on Aldo Drive in Silverton had two and a half feet of water in it after Hurricane Sandy swept through Toms River in October. She and her husband stayed with friends for a couple of weeks and then lived in the upper level of the house for more than a month. The repairs are now complete and life is getting back to normal.

But, Hamm said when Gov. Chris Christie announced Thursday the state is adopting Advisory Base Flood Elevation maps recommended by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), her home may be subject to new home elevation rules that govern the cost of her flood insurance.

Hamm was one of hundreds who attended FEMA Informational Workshops at Toms River High School East on Saturday, Jan. 26 to find answers to their many questions.

"I am concerned about the new zoning, if I have to have my house lifted," Hamm said. "My house has been fully repaired, but I may have to have it lifted three feet — how does that work?"

Hamm said she was getting on line to speak with FEMA representatives about the Increased Cost of Compliance Program, which offers flood insurance policyholders in high-risk areas up to $30,000 toward the cost of bringing a home or business into compliance with their community's floodplain requirements.

Township Council President George Wittman said the council asked for the workshop because they wanted to give people a one-stop shop to get their questions answered.

"Now we've completed most of the cleanup and people are anxious to start to rebuild," Wittman said. "The nice thing about this is that the people who can help are all in one spot and there are enough folks here, they shouldn't have a long queue."

Wittman said the township has asked FEMA to review the new flood maps, not because they question the elevations, but because some homes may be in the wrong zones.

"If you want to rebuild now, the Governor's order says you're in the zone you're in," he said. "They can wait until the final map in August, but if you're in a hurry, you might build to a higher level than you need to. There's not much you can do about that."

According to Christie, if the new maps say a property is now in a "V" zone where there could be breaking waves, a property owner could face flood insurance premiums of up to $31,000 a year if they do not elevate the home to the required level. Premiums would be much lower if they rebuild to those levels and even lower if they rebuild to two feet higher than that.

Louie Amendola of Totowa, who has owned his home in Silverton Beach for 20 years, attended the session specifically to find out about elevations. The first floor of his house was gutted in the storm.

"We haven't gotten any word from the insurance company - no payouts," he said. "We're sitting ducks at this point."

The workshop began with brief introductions from FEMA and Small Business Administration (SBA) officials. Mark Jamison from SBA explained his agency doesn't only help businesses, but can offer disaster loan assistance to homeowners, up to $200,000 for primary residences and $40,000 for the contents of the home. He urged property owners to apply for the loans no matter what since the deadline to apply is approaching.

"Don't wait for your insurance settlement to apply — once your claim comes through you can pay down the loan," said Jamison. "An SBA loan can be a tool in your toolkit for your long-term recovery."

Following the introductions, attendees walked to the high school's gym where information tables lined the walls, addressing issues including: individual assistance, hazard mitigation grants, Advisory Base Flood Elevation, housing assistance, Flood Insurance, and Township Departments -- Administration, Building Department, Engineering, Planning/Zoning, Public Works, and Tax Assessor. 

The longest lines were at the Advisory Base Flood Elevation tables, where FEMA representatives could look up people's addresses on the computer and tell them what zone their homes fell under.  Maps were tacked to the wall, as well for people to peruse.

The one thing FEMA officials stressed was how important it is for those impacted by Sandy to register with them for assistance.

According to FEMA, the flood line touched 15,000 homes in Toms River, with more than 10,000 homes actually flooded and 250 knocked off their foundations or collapsed. More than 53,000 people in Ocean County have registered with FEMA for assistance and 7,500 have visited the Disaster Recovery Center in the Bell Crest Plaza on Fisher Boulevard in Toms River, the busiest center in the state. 

FEMA has already disbursed $347 million in Individual Assistance Program funds, said Chris McKniff, FEMA spokesman. He said there has been major interest in the Advisory Base Flood Elevation tables.

"We're trying to educate people as to what it means to them in the rebuilding process and the ramifications for flood insurance down the road," he said.  "With a workshop like this, it's more personalized. They can sit down and talk about their specific case."

"We're here to help you," said William McDonald, FEMA Region II Deputy Director of Mitigation. "We will be here as long as we need to to get communities back stronger."

Gino February 02, 2013 at 02:49 PM
The builder I'm working with tells me that there a two legit companies that elevate houses in the area and they're not even taking calls right now as they are absolutely slammed with requests. He tells me the list is backed up over a year to get your house elevated to meet the new FEMA requirements. If true, this will force tears downs as is happening to me (I also have a mold issue under my siding). The new construction opens up a whole different can of worms...new construction loans, higher taxes due to "improvements" made, so called soft costs for surveyors, lawyers, inspectors, plans and drawings, permits, to the tune of $20-30 thousand. The hurricane was only the beginning of this disaster. I won't be moving back to my address for a year or more. FEMA is arealdy giving me crap about additional housing assistance. I need a damned drink.
Martin February 02, 2013 at 03:05 PM
Av, go to an AA meeting. Your repetitve chlldish remarks add nothing to the heart-felt conversation between people dealing with "the disaster after the disaster."
HJS February 02, 2013 at 03:15 PM
Gino Not so, if you need your house lifted, there are more then two, you need a new builder
David Construction LBI House Raising February 03, 2013 at 02:15 AM
Gino, I believe HJS is telling you the truth. There are several house raising companies in Ocean county and surrounding areas; I know, because we are a local house raising company. We have had to limit our service area to LBI and Manahawkin for now, because we are a construction company, too, and of course we are busy. We are getting approximately 40 calls/emails, and over 200 hits on our website a day. However, we are still taking calls, giving estimates, booking house raises, and it's not for a year from now. Some of the people we have talked to have told us that their builders are saying that raising their home is $100K, or that you can't get anyone for two years...etc. I think some of these contractors are looking to get some new construction contracts under their tool belt. If you google "house raisers NJ," you will find plenty. Keep in mind, that house raisers typically work for contractors as a sub-contractor. The contractor handles the majority of the project. House raisers only raise/lower, there is ALOT more to the job than that. You will need a reputable contractor, who is familiar with the process, to handle your house raising project. Best to you.
DIY February 03, 2013 at 03:02 PM
This is a most interesting discussion thread. I'm sitting on a slab which has never been flooded since built until Sandy. Now we are being moved from an AE7 to a V10 flood zone. Still on the fence more than ever about how to proceed. I have a mortgage and a per-FIRM rate at the moment, and if what you are all saying is true, the future does not look too promising as far as rates are concerned. Not sure whether to repair and wait, raise it on helical piers, or just knock it down and re-build as time and money permit. Currently awaiting an engineer's conceptual drawing and plan to raise it. Without this, it's hard to get some real quotes on getting the the job done. I do worry that raising the home is just one piece to satisfy compliance and the costs will become unmanageable. I also hear that TR will be re-assessing our taxes. It seems that the recent tax re-assessment which raised my taxes 60% a couple years ago is now inconvenient when trying to buy people out who are not permitted to re-build. This is all very complicated. My gut is telling me slow down. As I understand it, your insurance rates cannot be increased more than 25% per year. It's my 2nd home, 2 kids in college and 2 to go. Can't reach to high right now. God help us all and the shore community.

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