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Atlantic County Freeholder Chairman Finds FEMA Maps Problematic But Favors Building of Dunes

4-11-13

As warm weather approaches, Atlantic County is working hard to overcome damage from Superstorm Sandy. Frank Formica, a business man who also happens to be chairman of the Atlantic County Board of Freeholders, suffered serious hurricane damage to his business. He told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that he, like many other storm victims, is still waiting for insurance to cover his losses.

Even though all the insurance paperwork has been filed, Formica said that the overload of Sandy claims is slowing down the payment process.

“For businesses like us and homeowners, it’s really taking some time to get paid,” he said. “Insurance monies are coming in dribs and drabs.”

Although there was significant damage to his business, Formica said that damage wasn’t caused by flood waters but by an electrical power surge.

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In January, Gov. Christie announced the state would adopt the proposed new FEMA flood designation maps that suggest how high a home or building must sit on pilings once the rebuilding is done. But local leaders and environmentalists have been slow to embrace the new guidelines.

Long Beach Township mayor Joseph Manicini said he couldn’t get on board with the new rules until FEMA provides more information. Similarly, Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club, said FEMA’s maps are incomplete and the scientific data to support the new elevation standards has yet to be determined.

Formica said he understood the dilemma the Christie administration found itself in after Sandy and what led them to adopt FEMA’s maps.

“You had beaches and towns and tourist areas that needed to be rebuilt, but if the governor’s office just sat on what the existing flood things were and all that money was spent to rebuild at the existing levels only to find out in about a few months that they were going to go up to the recommended levels, all of those properties would have been in jeopardy of very unconscionable insurance hikes,” he explained. “So I think he had to make a decision. He is a decision maker and he made one to get New Jersey rebuilt.”

Formica has issues with FEMA-designated V zones, which stands for velocity, and indicates that a home is at risk for wave damage. Homeowners in areas marked as V-zones in his district — Atlantic City, Ventor, Margate, Longport, Somers Point, and parts of Egg Harbor Township — would be under the new guidelines, even though they did not suffer significant damage, said Formica.

He said these homeowners would be hurt because their homes had already depreciated in value pre-Sandy and FEMA’s maps would force them “to spend almost $100,000-150,000 to raise a house that is only assessed on the books for only $80,000.”

Gov. Christie declared war on oceanfront property owners who refuse to sign easements allowing for the allow protective dunes to be built in front of their homes. Formica said the building of dunes is a good idea, as seen in a comparison of two towns hit by Hurricane Sandy.

“There was a dune that was 16 feet high right on the beach on the block that I live and those homes were untouched by any floodwater and just down the road in Longport, homes were devastated and destroyed by waves,” Formica said.

Atlantic City tourist officials have criticized media outlets which reported that the boardwalk suffered major damage from the storm. Formica called it a pure mistake of reporting and said Atlantic City and the region would be 100 percent ready for the summer.

“We are open for business all the way down the coast from Atlantic City toward Cape May and it is going to be nice summer and an invigorating one business-wise.”