2013-04-04 / Front Page

Federal flood maps may affect more homes in Sayreville

Staff Writer

SAYREVILLE — Some residents whose homes may not have flooded during superstorm Sandy may be subject to new building code regulations issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

After Sandy hit last October, FEMA reformatted its flood maps, pending Congressional approval, to redefine the risk of flooding during a 100-year period in areas close to water. Previously, for areas such as Weber Avenue, homes were required to be raised off the ground anywhere from 5 to 9 feet, depending on the home and trajectory of the water into the neighborhood.

Now, if these new maps are approved by Congress, those areas will be required to raise their homes at least 14 feet to a level referred to as the “base flood elevation,” or where a home will be secure in the event of what is known as a “100-year storm.” Tack on another foot that the state encourages and the borough is abiding by, and some homes will end up 15 feet off the ground.

“The state adopted the additional foot [to add on to FEMA requirements], and New Jersey building code says that elevation should be at base flood elevation plus one,” Sayreville’s Director of Code Enforcement Kirk Miick said. “We just stick with the state’s building code.”

The flood zones on FEMA’s proposed maps, which the borough committed to abiding to after they were drawn up last December, extended a few blocks past the flood borders on the last map. Most notably, the 14-foot elevation requirement will now extend to Eisenhower and Patton streets, which run parallel to the heavily affected MacArthur Avenue. For the most part, homes on Eisenhower and Patton did not suffer significant flooding.

If the new maps are adopted, homes will need to be raised 15 feet according to the base flood elevation, or pay increased rates for flood insurance that is required if a resident has a mortgage.

“Parts of Patton never flooded, and they will have to raise the house or pay flood insurance if they have a mortgage,” Miick said. “If someone owns their house, they don’t need to buy insurance — they can take the risk.”

Most of the areas that fall into a flood zone are extensions from the old FEMA flood maps. Streets that experienced any flooding during Sandy are likely to now fall into a flood zone on the new maps. Streets that extend off of affected flood areas may now fall into a flood zone. This means that many of the streets that are near water, such as parts of streets off Jernee Mill Road, Bordentown Avenue, MacArthur Avenue, the beginning of Washington Road near MacArthur Avenue, and parts of Main Street, are now impacted by the flood maps.

The maps divide the coastal areas of Sayreville into three categories: an “A” zone, a “V” zone, and an advisory “X” zone. According to Miick, each town has a different base flood elevation height for each zone, so the heights in Sayreville may not be true for other towns.

“A” zones, which make up the vast majority of the new flood maps, mean that the water is “active” and classifies the flooding as the type where water overflows and rushes in.

“V” stands for “velocity” zones, and those areas are required to build at a minimum of 17 feet at the 100-year flood levels, plus the one foot addition from the state. Small residential areas of Sayreville are placed in “V” zones, notably the tip of Brookside Road, based on the activity of the water nearby.

“Picture a wave as it peaks,” Miick said. “A ‘V’ zone determines the peak of the wave. The requirement is to build to the highest part of the wave and what the height of the peak will be. In the areas that are ‘V’ zones, there are canals close to the homes. They look like swamps, but they’re really canals off the river.”

Miick said that “X” zones are only advisory and no height requirements or insurance purchases are required by FEMA. For the most part, according to the maps, areas around ponds such as Majors Pond are in an “X” zone.

Because of the complicated nature of the zoning on the maps, which could easily put one home in a flood zone and the home next door in a different zone, Miick stressed that each homeowner needs to go through their insurance company and FEMA to determine which flood zone they will be in if these maps are adopted. Those who were either previously near or located in an area that was flooded during superstorm Sandy are encouraged to check if they are included in the new flood zones.

“If there are any questions, the insurance company determines the zone that a home is in based on the maps, [not the borough],” Miick said. “They will have to contact FEMA for that information.”

New Jersey flood insurance programs require that costs be calculated based on the risk of a 100-year event, as opposed to a 500-year event, an alternative described on the map, which requires an even higher elevation. This 500-year event precaution does not apply in the state of New Jersey.

“[We] in New Jersey are only worried about the 100-year flood,” Miick said. “Other places in the country are at the 500- year plan, which is why FEMA put it on the map.”

Miick said that the maps are projected to be adopted in mid- to late 2014 on the federal level after hearings are held in Congress. If they are adopted on a federal level, they will go into effect on a local level.

Contact Stella Morrison at smorrison@gmnews.com.

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