Monday, May 05, 2008

FEMA's response to Rep. Pallone about new flood maps

This is a long post. It is the response from FEMA to Rep. Pallone about the FEMA flood map crisis in the Bayshore. This is a primary source of information in this entire issue, so I believe it is worth the room for those who want to see it.
--The Management


May 1, 2008

The Honorable Frank Pallone, Jr.
U.S. House of Representatives
6th District, New Jersey
237 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-3006

Dear Representative Pallone:

Through this letter, I hope to answer the specific questions you raised regarding what we see as confusion that exists over the community’s new Flood Risk Maps in the Bayshore section of your District. These questions were discussed in a conference call with your staff on April 18, 2008.

FEMA joins hands with local communities and the state to update these maps. This teamwork uses state-of-the-art technology to produce maps of a far greater degree of accuracy so that residents can see and understand the risk they may face and how they and communities can take individual or joint action to protect themselves.

What formulas were used to calculate the expanded flood zones?

The determination to expand the flood zones was not based on formulas. Rather, it was based on several key facts: 1) FEMA’s determination that the Keansburg Beach and Dune System (KBDS) does not provide citizens’ protection from a flood that has a one percent chance of occurring in any given year; 2) detailed hydrologic and hydraulic studies and; 3) more accurate topographic information.

The Beach Erosion and Hurricane Protection System is not a levee along the shoreline of Raritan Bay. This System was designed to reduce damage from coastal storms, but was designed and constructed prior to the formation of the National Flood Insurance Program. This means that the System does not meet the standards developed since that time.

What has changed in terms of the topography of the area to create such a large increase of the flood zone?

It is not a case of one factor alone increasing the risk. As explained above, several key facts were considered.

Although some small changes in topography have occurred in Monmouth County, these changes were not the primary cause for changes in the flood zone. The primary change in flood risk determination resulted from the above re-evaluation of the Beach Erosion and Hurricane Protection System.

In addition, methods for obtaining and incorporating more modern topographic information have been developed. These modern methods allow much better determination of flood risk, especially in a particularly flat area such as Monmouth County.

Would the requirements for the flood zones change if there were infrastructure upgrades to the dune system?

No; the issue here is that the dune system was identified on the 1983 map as providing protection as a levee. In 1986, the regulatory definition of an Accredited Levee changed (in the Code of Federal Regulations 44, #65.10 and 11), stating that dune systems do not provide protection from a flood with a one percent chance of occurring in any given year.

While it is always possible to upgrade the dune system, it would likely be cost-prohibitive. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) are currently discussing a feasibility study concerning the dune system’s upgrade.

Are there any provisions in current law that help property owners pay for flood insurance?

No. However, there are actions that individuals can take to protect themselves from risk and save money. Likewise, communities are positioned to undertake efforts to protect residents.

I should point out first that flood insurance wasn’t always available, which is why Congress stepped in to create the National Flood Insurance Program. The NFIP is a voluntary program based on a mutual agreement between local communities and the federal government. In exchange for adopting and enforcing a floodplain management ordinance, communities are eligible to receive Federally-backed flood insurance for property owners.


Holders of flood insurance policies who have maintained continuous coverage, or who have built-in compliance with the Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) are able, under “grandfather rules,” to buy flood insurance at lower rates before a new map takes effect.

“Community Rating System”

Recognizing that the adoption of new flood maps is the responsibility of the community, FEMA encourages communities to participate in the Community Rating System (CRS). Through voluntary community education and flood mitigation activities, community-wide discounts on flood insurance may be earned – from five to 45 percent. When a community is approved to participate in the CRS, property owners receive at least a five percent reduction in flood insurance rates. Details on CRS can be found online at:

“Community Mitigation Plans”

Local jurisdictions play a central role also in the development of mitigation plans that protect residents. Communities that adopt FEMA-approved mitigation plans become eligible for FEMA grants. These include grant programs for Hazard Mitigation, Pre-Disaster Mitigation, Flood Mitigation, and others, in which FEMA pays a portion of the cost.

“Other Mitigation Efforts”

New or upgraded structures may be constructed to exceed minimum community flood plain management standards. For example, a $150,000 house elevated two feet above the anticipated depth of the flood water will experience a 40 – 50 percent savings in premiums over the period of a 30-year mortgage.

Additional successful flood mitigation measures include, but are not limited to, voluntary property acquisition (in which the state and communities may offer homeowners who agree to participate a buyout at fair market value before a disaster struck), flood-proofing non residential structures, and storm-water management systems.


There will be a Community Risk Open House in Monmouth County later in May. This meeting will be open to residents of Keansburg, Hazlet, Middletown, and Union City and will allow those communities to see the new preliminary maps. We will ask your help in getting out the word to interested parties.

Residents will be able, as well, to ask questions of local, state, federal officials, and map contractors about the maps, flood insurance, building permits, and the like. We will keep you apprised of the date of this meeting and others that may be held.

I have attached two documents for your use in further explaining the complex issues involved here; one attachment is a quote from a local mayor in Montana who faced a similar situation as we find in Monmouth County, and the other is a more detailed response to the questions you posed to my staff earlier in April. I hope you find these items useful in responding to your constituents’ inquiries.

Once again, the focal points of FEMA’s and New Jersey’s work on Flood Risk Maps are local communities. The aim is to be sure that residents and communities both are aware of flood risks and of the steps available to them to protect themselves while saving money.

Mr. Bill Douglass of our External Affairs team will be contacting members of your staff to ensure we have answered your questions satisfactorily.

I hope this letter answers the questions contained in your April 9, 2008 letter. If you have further questions, or would like additional information, please don’t hesitate to contact me or Kristina Simpson, Director of External Affairs, at (212) 680-8563 or online at


Stephen Kempf, Jr.

Attachments – as
Attachment 1 –

Mayor Joe Whalen of Miles City, Montana

Mayor Joe Whalen wrote a timely guest editorial in The Miles City Star (Montana) April 25, 2008. He notes that the US Army Corps of Engineers recommended that FEMA include 3,100 existing structures in the Special Flood Hazard Area [SFHA], reminiscent of Monmouth County’s and many other U.S. cities’ experience.

He said, “We expect FEMA to act upon the recommendation, endorse a new Flood Insurance Rate Map, present it to the community next fall, conduct a lawful public hearing, and then formally adopt it.” He noted that the city’s requirements to stay in the NFIP, would include “higher flood insurance premiums for most property owners.”

He then asks, “What would be so horrible about slipping out of compliance with the NFIP? The short answer,” he says, “is that no federal financial assistance would be available to anyone within the community for recovery should a flood event occur…no loans may be guaranteed by the Federal government or approved by Federally-insured lenders for the construction or remodeling of any new structures within the SHFA.

“That constraint,” he continues, “would effectively depress property values, end new home construction and restrict home improvement in Miles City. It would also deeply depress our general business climate at a time when our local economy wants to expand.”

Mayor Whalen goes on to say that fighting the new map would be “expensive, time-consuming, and ultimately, unsuccessful.

“Or,” he concludes, “we can openly acknowledge that our entire community faces a shared risk. We can become informed and explore the range of exposures and options inherent in that risk. And we can wisely choose to develop a course that expands our options inherent in that risk.”

Attachment 2 – Detailed Responses to Questions

This attachment is intended to build on the direct answers provided in the basic letter, and to offer additional information for your office to share with the all the residents of these communities to help manage their risk from natural hazards.

You raised questions in your correspondence that we would like to address. To respond to your question regarding formulas used to calculate expanded flood zones: Formulas were not the basis for the increase of the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) in the area previously shown as protected by the KBDS. The basis for this increase was FEMA’s determination that the KBDS is not a levee.

As such, this system does not provide protection from the one percent annual chance flood (see enclosed regulations 44 CFR §65.10 for this determination). It is likely, however, that the KBDS may benefit landward properties and offer protection against flood events of a lesser magnitude, and further lessen the impacts of wave erosion.

In response to your second question regarding changes in topography in Monmouth County: The current effective maps for the county were developed from the late 1970s to the mid 1980s. There have been no significant changes in topography of this geographic area since that time. However, noteworthy advancements in the ability to accurately measure and obtain topography have been made since that time and were incorporated into these map update products. Most of the Monmouth County flood risk mapping update effort used existing hydrologic and hydraulic data and was blended with more accurate topographic information. In a particularly flat geographical area such as Monmouth County, small changes in flood elevation are more far reaching than in areas of greater topographic relief.

Regarding the condition of the dune system: What is at issue is that the dune system was identified erroneously on the 1982 (current) Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) and shown as providing protection as a levee. Our recent determination had nothing to do with the “maintenance” condition of this system. More to the point, our flood risk mapping effort at that time (1982) was inadequately advised as to how to assess and reflect flood risk as it related to these particular conditions on the ground. In 1986, FEMA published 44 CFR §65.10 which established criteria for mapping areas protected by levee systems. Accordingly, as mentioned above, the KBDS does not satisfy these criteria, as it never did. The area behind this system currently reflected on the preliminary DFIRM as flood prone has always been in harm’s way and subject to flooding from the 1% annual chance flood.

You also ask if requirements for flood zones would change if there were infrastructure upgrades to the area in question. While it is always possible to upgrade a system to meet regulatory standards. The KBDS would require significant investment which might outweigh insurance premium costs for local property holders. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) are, as mentioned earlier, currently discussing a feasibility study as to the removal of this area from the SFHA.

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