Sayreville awaits response to appeal of FEMA flood maps

Staff Writer

SAYREVILLE – Local officials are awaiting the response to an appeal of preliminary flood insurance rate maps, which they say incorrectly designate the entire borough as a flood zone, potentially driving up flood insurance rates.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) placed the Borough of Sayreville in an “AE-14 flood zone,” which would adversely impact local flood insurance rates. However, an appeal filed on behalf of the borough asserts that FEMA’s analysis exaggerated the actual flooding threats facing the borough.

“We hired an engineering firm to appeal the borough-wide designation of AE-14,” Business Administrator Dan Frankel said. “We felt it was too high. With Sandy, we didn’t have a 14-foot wave hit.

“We also feel that they go too far into the borough.”

Frankel added that while there was recurrent flooding on Weber Avenue and MacArthur Avenue, where extensive Blue Acres buyouts and demolitions have occurred, that is not the norm for much of the other areas included in the AE-14 zone.

Kirk Miick, the borough’s floodplain manager, said the borough-wide appeal does not apply to individual properties, but instead seeks some relief for large swaths of land in Sayreville.

“We’ve told residents numerous times that it is up to them if they want to [appeal] a specific street or house or neighborhood,” Miick said in an interview. “They would have to get together with an engineer themselves and get their own technical data.

“Ours is more of a broad stroke.”

Thomas Song, mitigation community outreach lead for FEMA Region II, echoed Miick, but added that although the deadline for borough-wide appeals has passed, residents have not missed the boat on filing individual appeals.

“Residents should know these appeals are for larger areas,” Song said. “But individual lots can make amendments and changes … by providing technical proof that their home’s lowest point is higher than the assessed flood risk. They can do that whenever they want.

“The residents still have recourse.”

The process would require homeowners to obtain an elevation certificate and engineering report, which could then be submitted to FEMA for review.

In addition to the pending borough-wide appeal, a proposed Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) flood control project in the South River could potentially change the lay of the land, but those modifications would not impact the flood maps until the project is completed.

The South River project has been on the books since 2002, but stalled in the preconstruction phase due to lack of funding. Now funded under the Congressional Sandy Aid bill, the ACE is reevaluating and updating the project.

“What we’re doing is updating the report to determine the feasibility,” a spokesman for ACE said, adding that an updated report on the project should be released by the fall.

The project initially included a storm surge barrier 320 feet in length along the South River; two combined levees 10,712 feet in length and 1,655 feet of floodwalls along the east and west banks in the boroughs of Sayreville and South River; and interior drainage facilities.

In addition, 379.3 acres of common reed wetlands would be restored to wetlands forest, upland forest, low-emergent marsh, mudflat and open water.

The study is focused on flood-prone areas within South River, Sayreville, Old Bridge and East Brunswick, which ACE believes is the region where ecological degradation is most significant. However, the ACE also identifies the region as ripe for ecosystem restoration.

The construction would be cost-shared 65/35, according to ACE. Sixty-five percent is eligible for the Sandy relief funds, the remainder is up to the state.

“As long as there is local and state support, we want to move forward,” a spokesman said.

However, FEMA can only factor in existing conditions to the flood maps, and a project of that magnitude is likely to take years to complete, according to Scott Duell, chief of the FEMA Region II Risk Analysis Branch.

By comparison, the Port Monmouth Flood Control Project, an ACE project underway in Middletown Township, is projected to continue through 2019.

“Any action can alter the risk in an area, and that’s why it’s required to be evaluated before the action is taken,” Duell said.

He added, though, that there are “no guarantees” so FEMA cannot cite anticipation of the project’s construction as a justification to alter the maps.

“We strongly encourage those properties [in revised flood zones] purchase a flood insurance policy in advance of the mapping becoming effective in that community,” Duell said. “They can get a lower rate now, so it’s advisory at this time.”

According to Duell, the soonest finalized changes to Sayreville’s flood insurance rate maps would likely occur is in early 2016.