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Gov. Christie Is Dead Wrong on FEMA Map Revisions

Christie tells Manasquan meeting that FEMA will ease new height rules

  • There will be pressure to rollback existing standards, to rebuild quickly and not to incorporate higher standards to create safer communities … Significant pressure will be brought forth politically to relax reconstruction standards, leaving the rebuilt structures as much or more hazard prone than prior to the disaster. The bigger the event the more likely we are to see backsliding in those policies that would make our coasts, cities, and citizens safer in the next event.   ~~~ Association of State Floodplain Managers,  12/31/12 Statement
  • “Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, said the tool “provides a stunning way to visualize the impacts of sea-level rise and to understand why it is so important to build to the highest possible elevation.” ~~~  Sea-level map offers disturbing picture of Shore’s future - Philly Inquirer, 3/21/13
  • To Bill Wolfe, director of the environmental group NJ PEER, “the Rutgers work shows how the FEMA maps underestimate risks.” He wants to see the new tool formally incorporated by the two agencies. ”Buildings and infrastructure like roads, water and sewer and storm water have useful lives of more than 50 years,” Wolfe said. “What we build today will see the Rutgers elevations.” ~~~ Sea-level map offers disturbing picture of Shore’s future Philly Inquirer, 3/21/13

 

According to the Star Ledger,

MANASQUAN — Facing a crowd of hundreds still reeling from the devastation left by Hurricane Sandy, Gov. Chris Christie said today the Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to release new flood elevation maps in a few months that will ease height requirements for many homes and businesses.

That is a highly irresponsible statement by the Governor and exactly the wrong signal to send to people contemplating whether or how to rebuild.

The Governor is asserting exactly the political pressure that professional floodplain managers correctly view as undermining critically important protections for public safety.

The Governor is recklessly misinforming the public, distorting expectations, and must be called out on this.

[Note: Christie's statement seems to conflict with the US Senate testimony, just 2 days ago, of FEMA Administrator Fugate (read testimony here).]

For example, just weeks ago, a new set of flood zone maps were released by Rutgers that showed the effects of sea level rise.

Those Rutgers elevations are higher than the FEMA maps, which don’t consider sea level rise or climate change.

As I’ve written several times, when FEMA considers these effects – as they are legally required to do – the final elevations are going to get  HIGHER and the flood zones are going to get LARGER. 

Yes, there may be some minor site specific technical modifications to the mapped “V” zones, but this will be nothing like the kind of relief the Gov. is suggesting.

Let me close with a quote by the flooplain management professionals –  I urge you to read the statement, which outlines specific needed actions – in its entirely:

Right now is the best window of opportunity to incorporate actions to make those communities impacted by Hurricane Sandy more resilient from future flood events. In the devastating aftermath of a significant event like Sandy, there also exists a window of opportunity for communities to make wise redevelopment choices that will help support the economic and social vitality for generations to come. While such choices can be politically unpopular in the short term when the focus is to get back to normal, choosing a better path now can lead to reduced costs, misery, suffering, and hardship for families and businesses alike. It is much harder during a “sunny day”, or after the event has been forgotten, to make needed changes than it is right now when people are faced with the consequences of the storm and are more receptive to significant – although sometimes disruptive actions – that can result in effective mitigation. There are admirable examples of communities in the nation that chose a more resilient future in their darkest hours after a devastating event.

Here is an outline of the document (there are detailed recommendations):

NEEDED ACTIONS

  • Rebuilding in Damaged Areas—Do It Smarter and Safer!
  • Mitigate Wherever Possible
  • Provide Resources and New Authority/Flexibility for Mitigation Programs
  • Protect and Restore Natural Floodplain and Coastal Systems

SUMMARY

We cannot afford, as a nation, to rebuild the same way. This event could push the total debt of the NFIP alone to 30 billion dollars. Recovery from Sandy must include mitigation in every single decision. The frequency and severity of coastal storms and rainfall events are changing in the US. We must evaluate how we plan, mitigate, and respond to natural hazards. We must ensure that the nation is not ignoring the ever increasing threat of natural hazards. We must rebuild in a way that will reduce vulnerability to flooding, hurricanes, and other large storms in the future in order to avoid the human suffering and economic disruption that always follows. Reconstruction must balance the critical nature of coastal wetlands, barrier islands, and other natural shoreline processes with the economic uses unique to the Northeast, for if we do not account for the delicate balance, we will simply be reconstructing a coast that will be even more vulnerable to the destruction caused by natural disasters. We must learn from the past to avoid repeating these problems so we have safer, more disaster resistant communities, homes, businesses, and infrastructure. And we must start now.

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