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Christie Announces Post-Sandy Rebuilding Regulations

“It is absolutely critical that we take this opportunity to rebuild New Jersey smarter and stronger in the aftermath of Sandy. That’s why today I am approving emergency regulations being proposed by the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) to help fast-track the rebuilding process,” said Gov. Chris Christie yesterday as he signed emergency regulations to adopt the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) updated Advisory Base Flood Elevation maps as the rebuilding standard for the entire state. These regulations establish requirements and more efficient procedures for residents and businesses to construct, reconstruct, relocate and elevate buildings and other structures in flood hazard areas. “Using the best available science and data as reflected in these advisory maps will give families, businesses, and communities the best assessment of their risk – allowing them to better mitigate damage from future flood events, avoid higher flood insurance costs, and begin the rebuilding process immediately.”

The common-sense provisions for rebuilding stronger structures more quickly include:

  1. Adopts the height and construction requirements in FEMA’s Advisory Base Flood Elevation (ABFE) maps as a state standard for reconstruction. The ABFEs reflect the best available, most current scientific data about 100-year floods.
  2. Allows property owners who rebuild to the ABFEs (plus one additional foot, as has been required by the New Jersey Flood Hazard Area Control Act since 2007) to do so via Permit By Rule (PBR). This eliminates the need for thousands of property owners to apply for DEP’s Flood Hazard Area permits, saving them at least $500 in permit fees plus the design and engineering costs associated with an application, and allowing them to begin reconstruction without waiting for department review as part of the rebuilding process.
  3. Allows “wet floodproofing” for non-residential buildings. Wet floodproofing means that a building may flood, but will structurally withstand the water, and enables reconstruction in urban areas in a safe and less costly manner than requiring elevations or dry floodproofing. This is especially important in highly developed areas like Hoboken or Jersey City. Without this change, residents and small businesses would have to comply with the existing rules, which could significantly drive up costs and make some redevelopment impossible.
  4. Eliminates requirements that now allow certain building foundations to have only three walls – a potentially unsafe construction method.

The emergency rules also bolster DEP construction requirements to make structures more storm-resilient, to prevent the level of destruction caused by Sandy. The rules will become effective immediately upon filing with the Office of Administrative Law.

The insurance costs of not complying with the new standards are dramatic. For example, if a property owner is currently in an “A zone” at 4 feet below the BFE elevation and is reclassified as a higher threat “V zone” and takes no action, that property will be rated at a higher risk and be subject to an approximate annual premium (phased in) of up to $31,000. In addition to the threat posed by being 4 feet below the BFE in elevation, the property owner will be non-compliant with V zone construction standards.  In contrast, if the owner were to rebuild to the suggested BFE and appropriate construction standards, the annual premium (phased in) would be approximately $7,000. If the resident rebuilds 2 feet above the BFE with the construction standards for their new zone, the annual premium would be approximately $3,500. NAIOP NJ’s Sandy Task Force will initially focus on insurance issues, and the Public Affairs Committee has requested a meeting with Insurance Commissioner Kenneth Kobylowski.