It was bad enough that Superstorm Sandy flooded Jim Reilly's Point Borough home, forcing him and his wife to live elsewhere.
But then came FEMA's flood maps, putting his house in the flood zone with the toughest building restrictions, with pressure on the towns and the state to accept them.
"It's blackmail," Reilly said, outside a FEMA meeting at Nellie F. Bennett Elementary School in Point Borough on Wednesday night. "I'm appalled that the town and the state adopted the flood maps and it's because they were being blackmailed by FEMA, because FEMA said, 'Adopt this or we won't give you money.' And you can quote me on that!"
Reilly, who lives on Center Street in Sunshine Harbor, had been in an "A5 zone," but is now in a "V10 zone," according to FEMA's Advisory Base Flood Elevation maps released this past December.
Many residents in Sunshine Harbor, east of Beaver Dam Road, which was badly flooded by Sandy, are now in V zones and are waiting to see if the next revision of the maps moves them out. The V zones have more restrictive standards for house elevation, including that, unlike the A zones, the homes in the V zones cannot be raised on concrete slabs.
That leaves those in V zones with only a few other choices, including using driven wood pilings or helical pilings. The latter method involves using steel beams to construct a new foundation while the house is hydraulically lifted. While the house is raised temporarily on wood, the new foundation is constructed and the house is lowered.
Because helical pilings can be installed under a home while it is suspended directly above the foot print, that would appear to be good news for residents like Reilly who simply have no space to rest a house while pilings are being driven into the ground.
However, using helical pilings is often more expensive, as Reilly has learned the hard way. He said the estimates he got were $84,000 to $120,000 for using the helical method. So he lives at a neighbor's house across the street as he tries to figure out what to do.
Trying to figure out what to do describes the mindset of hundreds of residents in the Point area, and thousands throughout the Jersey Shore, who were flooded by Sandy, including the hundreds who packed the FEMA meeting at the school gym on Wednesday night.
Speakers from FEMA and other state and federal agencies each addressed the crowd and then later took questions one-on-one and in small groups in the cafeteria.
When Chris McKniff, FEMA public information officer, was asked to respond to Reilly's assertion that the towns and state were "blackmailed," he acknowledged a connection between adopting the maps and FEMA funding. However, he said that the new maps actually enable many more of the flooded residents to be eligible for Increased Cost Compliance (ICC) funds from FEMA.
ICC funds are available only to those who are not compliant with the current flood maps and are eligible for financial assistance to come into compliance, which usually means elevating their homes, he said.
If a home complied with the old maps, which have been around since the 1980s, and if those maps had never been revised and were still the standard, those residents would not be eligible for ICC funds, because they would have already been in compliance and would not have needed financial help to become compliant, McKniff said.
The FEMA website states: "If your property is insured under the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), you may qualify for Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) coverage.
"Policyholders in high-risk areas can receive up to $30,000 to help pay the costs of bringing their home into compliance with their community's flood plain ordinance. You can only file an ICC claim if your community determines that your home has been substantially or repetitively damaged by a flood.
"This determination is made when you apply for a building permit to begin repairing your home. Substantial damage generally means that repairs will cost 50 percent or more of the building’s pre-damage market value. More information on ICC coverage is available through FEMA’s ICC web page. You may also call your insurance company or agent or the NFIP toll-free number at 1 800-427-4661 for assistance."
No Clue Yet About Whether FEMA Map Zones Will Change
The meeting provided some information about possible funds from FEMA and other sources, but there was no information on the answer most people wanted most: will the zones change when the "advisory maps" become "preliminary maps" in August?
Especially anxious for an answer are residents in V zones who are worried that if they remain in V zones, they will not be able to afford the cost of renovating, elevating and paying higher flood insurance premiums. While flood insurance will be more costly for those who do not elevate, those in V zones will still pay more than they did pre-Sandy even if they do elevate.
The lack of that information about the fate of the maps, or much new information at all, left Tom Bolcar of Sunshine Harbor walking out of the meeting with a thumbs-down.
Bolcar, who has become Sunshine Harbor's unofficial town crier for all things FEMA, talked to Virginia Hale, FEMA Hazard Mitigation Specialist, in the hallway as the crowd was walking from the gym to the cafeteria.
"When the governor adopted those maps, reconstruction stopped in my neighborhood," Bolcar told Hale. "There is one house that's raised and it looks ridiculous. The maps aren't science."
"The advisory maps are for people with deep pockets and insurance," Hale said to Bolcar. However, she added, the current maps are only "advisory," FEMA is working on them and will release "preliminary maps" in the summer.
He asked Hale why FEMA released the flood maps in December before a wave analysis was done, a wave analysis which Bolcar and many other local residents believe would have illustrated the reality that Sunshine Harbor and other parts of Point Borough near Barnegat Bay, creeks and lagoons are not vulnerable to "three foot wave action," a key part of the description of the V zone, which is often the designation for oceanfront homes.
"We didn't have time," Hale replied.
"Well, you made a mistake," Bolcar countered.
"We made a mistake," Hale said.
McKniff said FEMA, as part of its ongoing work on revising the maps, is taking into account where potential flood waters, from the ocean, Barnegat Bay or other waterways, are blocked by sea walls, dunes, structures or any other possible "impediments."
When asked why FEMA released the maps before the wave analysis and assessment of "impediments" was done, he replied, "Anything would have helped rather than producing nothing."
Funds from FEMA, SBA and New Jersey Natural Gas
However, not everyone who has applied for FEMA funding has received it. At the meeting, Barbara Edwards, FEMA Disaster Recovery Center Manager, asked the crowd in the gym, "Has anyone been denied?" Some hands went up.
She urged everyone to not take "no" for an answer, at least not the first time.
The reason for denial could be something easy to fix, such as a woman's Social Security card may have her maiden name and her FEMA application is in her married name, Edwards said.
"If you're denied, call or visit FEMA to ask why," she said.
SBA Loans for Residents and Businesses, Including Businesses Not Physically Damaged that Lost Revenue
She also urged anyone flooded or damaged by Sandy to apply for a low-interest loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration by April 1. Those applying for SBA loans for "economic injury" for businesses that lost revenue in Sandy's aftermath have until July 31. Even businesses that had no flooding or physical damage from Sandy can apply for economic injury loans.
Those rejected by SBA for loans are referred to FEMA and often are then eligible for additional aid, Edwards said.
Louise Porter, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Small Business Administration, said the loans are for homeowners, landlords, tenants and businesses.
For more information on SBA loans, see the SBA website or call (404) 331-0333 or (800) 659-2955.
NJ Natural Gas and State Energy Program Offering Higher Rebates for Sandy Survivors
Anne-Marie Peracchio, director of Conversation and Affordability for New Jersey Natural Gas, based at the office on Wyckoff Road in Wall, told the crowd that there are "enhanced incentives" available through the New Jersey Clean Energy Program for those who have been impacted by Sandy and who are installing energy-efficient boilers, furnaces, water heaters and heat pumps.
While the gas company typically offers "incentives" to homeowners installing energy-efficient equipment, it is now partnering with NJ Clean Energy to offer higher rebates for "a limited time," she said.
The gas company, along with the Clean Energy program, is offering the following incentives for energy-efficient equipment purchased and installed between Oct. 29, 2012 and Feb. 23, 2013:
- $1,500 for natural gas furnaces
- $1,400 for boilers
- $2,200 for "furnace and water heater combination installation
- $500 Central Air Conditioning or $700 for "ductless mini split" air conditioning
"Qualifying equipment purchased on or after Oct. 29, 2012 is eligible," says a NJ Clean Energy Program hand-out distributed at the meeting. "Specific incentive information and eligibility criteria are available to NJCleanEnergy.com/SANDY while funding lasts. Increased incentives, through this program only without the supplemental incentive from New Jersey Natural Gas, include:
- An additional $200 per unit for qualifying boilers, furnaces, water heaters, heat pumps and ductless mini-split units.
- $50 for ENERGY STAR qualified clothes washers
- Up to $1,300 should you purchase both a qualifying furnace and water heater
- $500 for high efficient central air conditioning unit
For more information on the above rebates, or for "Whole House Approach," which may make residents eligible for "rebates up to $5,000," visit the Save Green Project website or call 877-455-NJNG (6564). "Like" the company on Facebook "to get program updates."
"If you need to gut an existing home or build a new home, visit NJCleanEnergy.com/SANDY to locate a New Jersey Energy Star Homes builder," the hand-out says.
Representatives of New Jersey Hope and Healing were also at the meeting, encouraging anyone who needs emotional support through the difficult process of recovery to call their toll free helpline at 877-294-HELP (4357).
For more information about house elevation, read this story.