Singing in the Rain
How Proper Flood Mitigation Can Keep Your Town High and Dry
By David M. DelVecchio
and John A. Miller
The City of Lambertville
has committed to going after mitigation funding for projects to protect the residents. A team of volunteers helped prepare the plan and are active in flood mitigation strategy.
Floods are the most common natural disaster in the U.S., and New Jersey
is among the chronic sufferers. Given the variety of disastrous events that could trigger massive flooding in regions of New Jersey, as well as an ever-expanding floodplain, a program of proactive planning and flood mitigation is essential. Is your municipality prepared to face the increasing risk of flooding?
Recurring Flooding in New Jersey
Tropical Storm Floyd in September 1999 devastated much of central New Jersey and was the costliest natural disaster in New Jersey’s history, damaging 70,000 homes and businesses and causing six deaths.
In one 21-month period, major flooding along the Delaware River caused the highest peaks along the main stem since the Flood of Record in August 1955. For the April 2005 flood alone, an estimated 3,500 homes were evacuated, forcing 5,500 people in New Jersey river towns from homes from as far south as Trenton to as far north as Montague.
Governor’s Flood Mitigation Task Force
In April 2005 Governor Cody formed a Flood Mitigation Task Force to address the recurring flooding along the Delaware River. The Task Force includes municipal, state and federal officials, nonprofits, agency technical experts and consultants with specialties in hydrology and floodplain management. Its mission is to reduce flooding’s impact on lives and minimize economic losses.
To aid flood victims, the Task Force recommended that the position of Flood Ombudsman be created. This individual would connect people to the proper agency for assistance. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster centers, although effective immediately, are usually only in place for a couple months following the disaster. The Flood Ombudsman would be activated during the event and be available for follow-up long after FEMA units have moved on to the next national crisis. Local leaders need to remind the governor of the importance of making an appointment to this position.
Lambertville Fights Back
The City of Lambertville in Hunterdon County, a Delaware River community, has been hit hard by three rounds of flooding in less than two years.
Getting in the proactive mood, the City engaged the services of the United States Department of Agriculture—Natural Resource Conservation Service to study the possibility of installing a flood gate and pumping station in the worst damage area.
Because the city was not covered by a Hazard Mitigation Plan, a prerequisite to applying for FEMA grants, a consultant was hired to work with a team of official and citizen volunteers to prepare a plan. At the end of July, this plan was adopted by the City Council and submitted to NJOEM and FEMA for review and comment, making Lambertville only the third municipality in New Jersey working on a plan.
Continue Floodplain Mapping
The Task Force also looked at floodplain mapping, which in much of the state is decades old and does not show the current state of flood risk. For the Delaware River along the New Jersey side, progress is being made between the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) and FEMA on studying unmapped sections and restudying previously mapped sections. Even if you are outside the Delaware River area, your municipality should be active in the map modernization efforts in your county. Ask your municipal engineer if he/she is participating in the process. This national program is a five-year statewide effort. The more you participate, the more likely your flood mapping will accurately show the flood-prone areas in your town.
Implement Flood Insurance Regulations
A number of additional recommendations came from the Task Force. Certain federal and statewide regulations were endorsed to protect health and safety for new development and redevelopment. The most important: your town is individually responsible for implementing the National Flood Insurance Program minimum regulations—a requirement for your continued participation in the NFIP. But you needn’t stop at the minimum. The Code of Federal Regulations (44 CFR §60.1 (d)) states that “Any community may exceed the minimum criteria…”and that “…regulations adopted by a State or a community which are more restrictive than the criteria set forth…are encouraged and shall take precedence.”
Seek Grant Opportunities
FEMA’s grant programs can help municipalities with flood mitigation activities, such as building elevation, buyouts, and relocation or small structural projects. The Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (Presidential disaster declaration required and money available based on FEMA assistance and flood insurance claims) and Pre-Disaster Mitigation (nationally competitive) are the main programs, and a Hazard Mitigation Plan is absolutely required to submit applications. But in New Jersey, only two towns have Hazard
Mitigation Plans—Atlantic City and Wayne Township, Passaic County—and they are in the driver’s seat to apply for grants.
New Jersey on the whole has been lax in pursuing grant opportunities. Communities need to do a better job of capitalizing on the money available. The New Jersey Office of Emergency Management (OEM), under the State Police, will work with counties and municipalities on qualifying and obtaining FEMA assistance toward hazard mitigation. Its goal is to ensure all municipalities within the state possess approved Hazard Mitigation Plans so that they can qualify for mitigation funding.
On a more positive note, another FEMA grant possibility is the Flood Mitigation Assistance program, and 29 municipalities have plans that qualify for this funding mechanism. These communities need to work toward implementing their plans.
Limit Repetitive Loss Properties
A new grant program is about to be released for Severe Repetitive Loss properties, and, although this will also require a local match of 25 percent, OEM is attempting to reduce the non-federal match to 10 percent with a modification of the State Hazard Mitigation Plan. The Mitigation Unit is working with other state agencies to explore funding options for the match. The NJDEP Green Acres Program has been used in the past to provide the 25 percent match for acquisition projects in Wayne, Harmony, and Pohatcong Townships. Repetitive Loss properties excessively burden the federal taxpayer and these sites are the highest priority for FEMA.
To find out whether you have any Repetitive Loss and Severe Repetitive Loss properties in your municipality, contact Sgt. Paul Miller, the State Hazard Mitigation Officer at NJOEM, 609-538-6009.
Being competitive in the hunt for grants is something that Jeff Ward, a self-employed Mitigation Specialist, knows something about. “My goal is to ensure that my clients are eligible to apply for all FEMA grants and that they have the strongest application possible,” he says. Combining a thorough, up to the minute knowledge of each mitigation program and aggressively pursuing any and all viable grant opportunities. His clients spend their “energies staying abreast of the changes in mitigation programs and preparing in advance for upcoming opportunities,” he says.
The Association for Flood Plain
Unsure how to address flooding in your community? The New Jersey Association for Floodplain Management (NJAFM) can help. “The role of NJAFM is to assist floodplain managers with all aspects of their work,” says Mark Mauriello, Chair of NJAFM. “We can provide contacts and technical assistance, share information and mitigation success stories, facilitate training and education of local floodplain managers, assist in navigating regulatory agencies, and provide support with local zoning and planning,” he says.
The second annual NJAFM Conference on October 26-27 in Somerset, New Jersey, will feature discussions on reducing flood losses and a learning tract focused on local education designed for code officials, municipal officials, planners and leaders of the community. The conference will provide information on programs, actions, and ways to be competitive in applying for grants. Make sure that you have at least one person attend from your community. See www.njafm.org for more on the conference.
Take Action Before Your Next Flood
There is no absolute cure for flooding, but being prepared can help stave off the worst in a disaster. People are standing by to assist, so what are you waiting for? Floods will happen, and it’s time to get your feet wet with flood planning and mitigation
Article published in October 2006, New Jersey Municipalities
Panel at NJLM Conference
Plan to Attend the panel discussion "Flood Protection and Mitigation," on Wednesday, November 15, 2006 at 2:00 p.m. at the League conference in Atlantic City