FEMA Weighs In on Proposed DEP Rule Changes, Warning of Potential Flood Hazards

Tom Johnson | September 23, 2015 | Energy & Environment
U.S agency joins others in criticizing DEP plans, points to problem spots that could be in violation of federal flood-insurance program

flood nj
Another government agency is warning that a pending proposal to change the state’s water-quality and flood regulations may fail to comply with federal rules, an issue already flagged by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In a letter to the state Department of Environmental Protection, FEMA commented that a proposed DEP rule could weaken current flood protections, by allowing, among other things, a new building to go up in a floodway along the Hudson River.

Others suggested that by failing to comply with federal standards, the proposal could jeopardize local communities’ participation in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), denying those affected by flooding from receiving federal financial assistance.

The pending regulations have also generated objections from environmental groups who fear that other aspects of the proposal could increase pollution in state waters. The EPA echoed many of those concerns in its own comments on the DEP proposal.

The proposed rules, made public this past June, would amend three longstanding state regulations — flood hazard control, coastal zone management, and stormwater management.

The DEP has said it would address the concerns in its reply as part of the public comment process.

“It’s significant because it may affect how we redevelop the Jersey Shore,’’ said Bill Wolfe, the former director of New Jersey’s Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “They are putting people and property at risk.’’

FEMA’s comments were largely technical, dealing with the design of buildings in flood-hazards areas, but cited several instances where the proposal fails to meet minimum federal standards.

For instance, the federal agency noted that it appears the rules do not include specific requirements for the location or protection of utilities and equipment that serve buildings, including electrical, heating, ventilation, plumbing, and air conditioning.

In another concern, FEMA cites a provision of the rules that would allow construction of a building on a pier in the Hudson River that may not be consistent with the federal flood-insurance program.

The New Jersey State League of Municipalities also urged amendments to the rules to ensure the regulations do not fall below the standards of the flood-insurance program.

If communities do not adequately enforce their floodplain-management regulations, they can be placed on probation and potentially suspended from the program, according to the federal rules.

“In sum, the ability of a municipality to enforce these provisions is very important,’’ the league said in comments submitted to the state.

The federal environmental agency cited different concerns dealing with the proposal, including a provision reducing stream buffers, a change that the EPA suggested could lead to additional development and discharges to surface waters, affecting water quality.