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Life After an
Unprecedented Disaster

Maypr Stephen Acropolis 
By Stephen C. Acropolis
Mayor, Brick Township

A common denominator in the wake of Hurricane Sandy is that no person alive had ever dealt with a disaster of this magnitude here in New Jersey. No policy makers, no first responders and certainly no homeowners.

Police and emergency responders performed admirably because they have trained for the worst case scenario. As we transition from recovery to rebuilding, the learning curve for the rest of us presents an additional hurdle to restoring our communities. That is why it is critical that our federal representatives and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials, who have dealt with natural disasters and their aftermaths, provide clear guidance while also understanding that we know our communities best.

Information Fair The kind of cooperative effort that is needed to recuperate was on display in Brick Township back in January. Township officials worked in concert with FEMA and the Small Business Administration (SBA) to hold a Sandy Information Fair. We met with nearly 2,000 storm affected residents over the course of several hours on a Saturday morning. General information was shared on an hourly basis, followed by breakout sessions, where homeowners could ask their individual questions.

street covered by sand
Rt. 35 in Brick Township was rendered impassible by Hurricane Sandy.

According to FEMA, the event was the first of its kind and highly successful. Similar events have since been held in other communities throughout the region. In addition, the township and FEMA worked together to document the event for residents who were unable to attend.

A video of the event is available on the Brick Township YouTube site, It has been viewed nearly 500 times by people throughout the United States.

However, unfortunately, this example of different levels of government working together to communicate accurate information and provide guidance has been the exception, rather than the rule, in the six months since Sandy.

Sandy Information Fair
Township officials worked in concert with FEMA and the Small Business Administration (SBA) to hold a Sandy Information Fair in January.

Flood Zone Designations There has been much discussion, at the Information Fair and in general, about the FEMA flood zone designations, as noted on the Advisory Base Flood Elevation Mapping (ABFE). The Township of Brick’s objection to the flood zone designations are in line with FEMA’s acknowledgement that a proper wave analysis (used to delineate velocity flood zones (V Zones)) was not completed prior to the release of advisory base flood mapping. As a result, we anticipate and expect changes on the Preliminary Maps which are due out in September. The residents and elected officials in the Township of Brick are resolute that the completed flood studies will result in a much narrower, more realistic, velocity zone.

Additionally, the Township of Brick would request that FEMA consider the preventative value of the anticipated Manasquan Inlet to Barnegat Inlet New Jersey Shore Protection Project, which is being strongly pursued as I write this article, when developing the Preliminary Flood Elevation Mapping. The project will result in the significant likelihood of reduced damages from low frequency/high intensity storm events and the interrelated wave velocity.

The reason that these factors must be considered and the zone designations must be more pragmatic goes beyond the impending impact on individual homeowners of the cost of elevating their homes and/or maintaining flood insurance. Our town is already computing the massive loss of ratable base that has resulted from the immediate devastation. If residents are obligated to pay tens of thousands of dollars for insurance or hundreds of thousands of dollars to elevate or rebuild their homes, many may inevitably and regrettably choose to leave. We may even lose some residents whose properties were unaffected by flood waters.

How much of an exodus can this or any community incur, and what will be left behind? While the intention of these flood zones may be good, there is a great likelihood that if not done properly, they will contribute to the deterioration of the very communities they aim to protect.

Mayor Stephen Acropolis Asm Speaker Oliver
Brick Township Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis and New Jersey Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver
discuss the damage and recovery efforts on the barrier island.

Means Testing for Aid Another concern as I write this article is the potential for Sandy rebuilding aid, in the form of grants, to be means tested. In other words, residents whose income is above a certain threshold may not be eligible for financial support, regardless of the damage they may have suffered. I think these funds should be provided to any resident whose home is determined to be substantially damaged. That means for those for whom the cost to make all necessary repairs will meet or exceed 50 percent of the market rate value of the structure. Sandy did not target based on income. Placing arbitrary thresholds on who should receive aid will only guarantee that residents in Brick and other towns will not receive the help they need and deserve.

Now that I have clearly stated my concerns, I must also applaud the effort that has been put forth as we work to recover and move toward rebuilding. I’m thankful for neighbors helping neighbors, volunteers coming to lend a hand, civic and business organizations rallying their members. Local officials have set aside partisanship to accomplish great things. And finally, I’m thankful to our Governor, whose no nonsense style is exactly what we need in the face of such adversity. We are fortunate that Governor Chris Christie is leading our state when so much is at stake.

The worst storm in the modern history of New Jersey, Sandy has already changed the landscape in our state. If we do not proceed deliberately and holistically with real support from our federal government, the consequesces will be dire. This storm could potentially destroy the very fabric of communities like Brick Township and so many other jewels of our beloved shore.


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