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Christie Buyout Plan Shifts Focus to Inland Flood Risks

DEP River Flood Maps Underestimate Risk – Are 30+ Years Old

Flood Prevention a Buono strength and Christie vulnerability

  • The majority of the Department’s flood maps were promulgated in the 1970s and 1980s. While there have been a number of minor revisions to these maps over the years, the Department has generally not undertaken large-scale remapping or new mapping of previously unmapped waters since that time. As a result, the Department’s maps in some cases underestimate the actual extent of flooding. ~~~  DEP Emergency Rule  (Jan. 24, 2013)
  • We can’t rely on flood maps that go back to the Jimmy Carter era, or we’re just asking for more trouble.  ~~~ Senator Gordon – Senate Hearing, Dec. 3, 2012

Governor Christie’s proposal to seek $250 million in federal Sandy disaster assistance funds for a buyout program has shifted the debate to an equal or greater flood risk: NJ’s inland river systems.

On Tuesday, the Record reported:

Governor Christie wants to spend $250 million in federal money to buy out flood-prone properties, but not necessarily in the shore communities hardest hit by super storm Sandy, he said Tuesday.

[…]… Christie said he wants to focus the buyouts on flood-prone areas in Middlesex County, which has about 50 miles of shoreline on the Raritan River estuary, Raritan Bay and the Arthur Kill.

As we warned, the majority of the flood damages occur inland, the majority of repetitive flood claims occur inland, and so have the majority of economic harms DEP has documented – which are only going to grow as climate change accelerates:

From 1993 until April 2010, New Jersey experienced 1,241 floods causing more than 1.25 billion dollars in property damage and resulting in 14 deaths and 197 injuries. … In 2011, FEMA made five major disaster declarations in the State, four of which were due to flooding from severe weather events. Recent floods, such as those associated with Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011, have added significantly to these numbers. Most recently, in October 2012, Superstorm Sandy led the President of the United States to issue a major disaster declaration for all of New Jersey. The most recent estimates for Superstorm Sandy indicate that as many as 38 New Jersey residents lost their lives and that the statewide economic impact of the storm exceeds 37 billion dollars.

Thousands of NJ homeowners live in flood hazard zones along NJ’s rivers and bays, but are not aware of that fact and do not have flood insurance.

As a result, they are at risk from having their homes and largest investments wiped out with no ability to receive insurance claims or federal reimbursements.

Residents and local governments are unaware of these risks and unable to protect themselves because DEP flood hazard maps are outdated and inaccurate, some 40 or more years old.

Those maps have not been updated. FEMA and DEP only updated coastal flood maps.

Senator Gordon (D-Bergen & Passaic) has sponsored legislation (see S2208) to require DEP to update those maps and accurately delineate flood hazard zones. That bill has not yet been heard by the Senate Environment Committee (what is Bob Smith waiting for?).

Gordon conducted aggressive oversight of DEP Commissioner Martin on the outdated flood map issues during a December hearing (see this for full exchange).

In opening remarks at the recent AshBritt hearing, Gordon further pledged to develop a comprehensive package of legislation to improve the State’s emergency preparedness and response capabilities, where there were multiple breakdowns.

The Assembly version of the bill (Wagner D-Bergen & Passaic – see A3262[1R]) has been heard by Committee and is pending full Assembly vote.

Democrats should push hard to move these bills – they are both good public policy and good politics.

Politically, they illustrate another serious flaw in Gov. Christie’s policy agenda and lax DEP oversight and enforcement of the State Flood Hazard Control Act.

Like shore risks, experts have warned about these risks for years, but DEP has failed to take action.

Now, the growing problems that have resulted from DEP’s historical lax approach are greatly magnified by Gov. Christie’s pro-development and anti-regulatory policy (See Executive Order #2) and his delegation of State responsibilities to the local level (see Executive Order #4).

On a public policy level, government has a legal and moral obligation to warn and protect people from known significant flood risks.

People need this information to take steps to protect and insure themselves financially – and prospective home buyers need this information so they are fully aware of the risks they are taking on in buying a home in a flood hazard zone.

Plus, Senator Buono – Christie’s challenger – was the prime sponsor of the Senate bill, which was drafted prior to Sandy so can not be attacked as a partisan political initiative.

Buono strength – Christie vulnerability. Good contrast issue.

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