In Brigantine, U.S. Reps announce legislation to ease Flood Insurance rate hikes

New Jersey Natural Gas workers (no ID's) work on installing new service to a home under construction in Point Pleasant Beach April 9, 2013, where the homeowner tore down his house after it was damaged by Hurricane Sandy, and built new. ( TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer )


With their backs up against the seawall at the end of Brigantine Avenue, U.S. Reps. Frank LoBiondo and Jon Runyan announced they were introducing legislation that would ease some of the burden from the planned whopper of a rate increase to fund the once-hemorrhaging national Flood Insurance program. They were joined by Brigantine Mayor Phil Guenther, above, in the suit and tie. (The Congressman dressed down for the beach).

Their plan - carefully constructed to avoid re-opening up debate on the 2012 Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform law itself- would stretch out mandated rate hikes from 25 percent over four years to 12.5 percent over eight years, to help with the slow pace of rebuilding nearly six months after Hurricane Sandy. Under that legislation, which was debated in Congress for five years, the hikes in premiums would eventually reach full-risk cost, phasing out the taxpayer subsidy. This affects primarily second and vacation homes, commercial properties, homes sold to new owners and homes substantially damaged or improved, and properties routinely flooded. Primary homes are not impacted by the legislation, though they too will see future increases depending on the final rate maps.

LoBiondo stressed that the legislation would face skepticism from people who would like to see the National Flood Insurance program wiped out altogether. "This is going to be a challenge," Runyan said. "It wasa plan to make it solvent.This deal is to make it solvent going forward. It puts more money in their pockets to help rebuild these communities."

On a related matter, LoBiondo said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate had "promised, guaranteed and assured" him that FEMA would adjust their new flood elevation maps to be in agreement with the maps produced by the municipalities themselves, which would more accurately reflect the vulnerable zones along the shore. These maps - which placed whole swaths of barrier islands in new Velocity zones that would require raising homes onto pilings - have stalled the rebuilding as Gov. Christie mandated them, but FEMA said they would be changed.

This is Sarah Huff, a resident of nearby Cummings Place, who attended the press conference and said, "I feel like it will take a lot more patience." She and her daughter are back living in their home with her husband, Bob, but rebuilding the ruined first floor and getting their lives back to normalcy is awaiting the final flood maps. "More of the same," she said. "Our government is dragging their feet."