DEP Commissioner Discusses New Flood Maps, Home Buyouts

New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin says FEMA's revised flood maps have positive changes and believes there will be enough money available to buy homes in flood prone areas from willing sellers.

FEMA has released new flood maps, which have greatly reduced the number of homes classified in V zones, the most prone to dangerous flooding. New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that the maps are a work in progress, which FEMA made clear from the beginning. He said the maps will go through a regulatory process before adoption where individuals can bring information forward to challenge them. Martin also said the government plans to buy out flood prone neighborhoods to provide a buffer over time.

According to Martin, FEMA began working on new maps two years ago but the organization was forced to release the maps early because of Hurricane Sandy. “We got advisory maps about three months ago. Now we’re getting down to what they call work maps,” he said. “These are the ones that will go through a regulatory process and review. So over the next 12 to 18 months, those will go through a process of reviews and ultimately get adopted.”

Martin said the reevaluation of the flood maps was wise, explaining that from the beginning FEMA representatives said the maps weren’t completely finished and a review has changed some of the classifications dramatically. “They knew they weren’t completely ready when they put the advisories out, but we wanted to go out with the most conservative maps early on so the people who wanted to rebuild could rebuild to very conservative standards initially. But we realized a lot of these V zones would shrink. So these V, or velocity, zones have shrunk down in Ocean County by about 50 percent,” he said.

Members of the group Stop FEMA Now have said the new maps are a good start, but they’re going to keep the pressure on for more dramatic changes. While Martin said a DEP review of the methodology and approach to the maps have shown FEMA has done a good job, he added that anyone with additional information they want to bring forward to challenge the maps can do so during the regulatory process.

“Any groups are allowed to bring that information forward. From the state’s point of view, we’re glad to work with them as well to bring that information forward,” Martin said.

The government plans to buy out flood prone homes to help alleviate problems that could occur in future storms that bring heavy rains. Martin said Gov. Chris Christie has set aside $300 million for buyouts. He expects to buy out at least 1,000 properties, in groups.

“This is not just take out one house here, one house there. You gotta be able to go and take out a whole neighborhood or a whole street to provide that buffer from the flooding over time. Bottom line is, we’re looking for about a thousand in the coastal area,” Martin said. “The governor’s also said we’re gonna also make sure we put money aside for at least another 300 homes in the Passaic River Basin and other areas of the state that flood quite often.”

Buyouts will be done on a voluntary basis and Martin said based on the numbers of interested parties he’s been getting, most of the requests to sell will be able to be fulfilled. Most are located in tidal areas, he said.

“Nobody really wants to sell their property in the coastal town. It tends to be more in the back bay and tidal areas that get impacted mostly on it. So we believe we’ll be able to help the vast majority of people who want to be helped,” Martin said. “And again, as I mentioned, buying one house here or there isn’t going to help us. We gotta buy whole neighborhoods.”