ENVIRONMENT

South Jersey Lawmaker Moves Away From Initial Objection to New FEMA Standards

Post-Hurricane Sandy, Gov. Chris Christie has vowed to rebuild, but not according to pre-Sandy building standards. Now that the state has adopted the new FEMA maps, everybody that wants to rebuild in a flood zone down the shore will be impacted. NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider spoke with Sen. Jim Whelan (D-2) who had voiced objections to the new guidelines. But it’s a stance that he is now backing away from.

Initially, Whelan objected to FEMA’s new guidelines, saying they would have a devastating impact on people who are not in a position, financially, to meet them. He feared he himself would be subject to the new standards.

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“I happen to live in a twin home. People in Atlantic City and Ventor who live in row homes, how are you going to get a whole row of houses and elevate them?” he questioned. “And when it looked like everybody had to go up on pilings, it really was a practical impossibility.”

But a meeting he had earlier today at the Statehouse helped alleviate some of those fears, according to Whelan. The meeting was attended by representatives from FEMA and the Christie administration, including members from DEP and DCA, as well as local officials from Atlantic County.

“Our point was it makes sense to have people who need to rebuild completely meet the new standards,” he said. But for residents like himself who are simply looking to make repairs, not a major rebuild, he said it was prudent to hold off on adopting the new maps as they are still a work in progress. “What we heard from the representatives of the administration is that, at the present time, the maps and the standard of the pilings apply basically to a total rebuild or new construction. They don’t apply to people who are doing a repair.”

In light of the clarification, Whelan now says the new standard as it applies to a total rebuilding is fair and reasonable. “I think it makes sense if you’re going build new to have a more stringent guideline so that you’re not building to the old guidelines and, in a year or two years from now, someone comes along and says, ‘Oh by the way, we changed the rules on you, you should have built to 11 feet, you only built to 10,'” he said. “Again, for those under repair, let’s see what happens, let’s see as the map gets adjusted. One of the flaws in the maps and, this was acknowledged by FEMA and these are working documents, is that the maps do not include engineering that has been done both on the beach and along the bayfront. I mean not every bayfront is just open expanse, you have bulk heading.”

Whelan himself is still feeling the effects of the storm. He hasn’t been able to move back into his house. But his return may come soon.

“My contractor tells me by March. We’re right on the bay, so we want to get back in, be ready for the summer, as do most of us on the Jersey Shore,” Whelan said. “We’re looking forward to a good summer season.”