If you had asked Paul Smith Jr., mayor of Union Beach, New Jersey, if he thought he’d still be talking about Hurricane Sandy today, more than six and a half years after the storm made landfall, he would have said no.  

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But years after the storm pummeled New Jersey’s coastline, Sandy is part of the present, not the past, for many of the residents Smith represents. His small beach town on the state’s northern coast, just 6,649 people spread over an area just under 2 square miles, spent roughly $6.3 million cleaning debris off the beach. Half of the city’s homeowners were affected by the storm, and so far, more than 350 homes have been rebuilt or raised. But there’s still work to be done. 

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 “The state helped a lot, but some people did decide to walk away from their homes,” says Smith. “That’s what we’re trying to figure out: what’s abandoned [and] where the empty spots are.”  

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According to George Kasimos, a realtor who runs an advocacy group called Stop FEMA Now, his home in Toms River, New Jersey, was one of nearly 10,000 in town damaged by Sandy. During the course of his initial rebuild, he discovered that he needed to loft his home based on new FEMA flood-zone mapping. That meant an extra six to nine months of work, and, perhaps, an extra $200,000.  “I felt like I had been hit by two hurricanes,” he said.

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“The number one problem is nobody is giving you the information needed to rebuild correctly.” (Kasimos was told he had to elevate his home, AFTER receiving permits just to rebuild his home. He had to vacate his home again for the elevation 4 years after Superstorm Sandy. The cost to rebuild and elevate cost significantly more money than knocking the house down and building a new home.)  

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Kasimos says the miscommunication about flood mapping and insurance rates will be a huge issue going forward. (There is a huge concern that homes that flooded in the last few years and are rebuilt, will have unaffordable flood insurance premiums. And homeowners will just walk away from their homes.)  

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FEMA, which created the maps used for the National Flood Insurance Program, has announced plans to bring maps up to date over the next few years. Homeowners fear increasingly expensive flood insurance premiums, making it more costly to stay in their homes, and potentially deterring future buyers.  

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Kasimos feels much of the limited federal flooding recovery money is simply going to waste. If, say, a house worth $300,000 requires $150,000 to properly elevate and prepare for the next big storm, is it better to spend years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to update, or to immediately buy them out and reclaim that land as a natural beachhead to help with future storm surges?  “You certainly can’t make everyone in the Jersey Shore leave,” he says, “but you can buy out a lot of people. These should be no-brainers. You can get 3 to 4 times more bang for the buck turning that home into green space, and putting money in that family’s pocket so they can start getting back on their feet.”  

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The current wave of repairs in New Jersey, for instance, backed by CDBG money, only covers the bare minimum needed to meet flood insurance requirements. After a few rounds of changes to the flood zone map, Kasimos ended up elevating his home to 15.5 feet above the BFE, 7.5 feet over the FEMA’s recommendation. He also built it to the more stringent V zone standards, even though his home is situated in an AE 8 Zone.  He feels the additional height is more than worth it. His flood insurance premium is less than $400 a year and is not worried of any large flood premium increases, because his flood risk is low.  “Don’t elevate for today,” he says. “As much as I fight FEMA, I agree that if you’re going to elevate, you should be doing it 4 or even 5 feet above FEMA standards. Global warming is happening. If you’re getting federal funding, you should be worried about 100-year flooding and, currently, the CDBG money only gets you to a bar (it only raises your home the minimum. The majority of the cost of lifting a home is the first inch, the cost to raise it an additional 4 or 5 feet above the BFE is nominal.”

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Read the full story here.https://www.curbed.com/2019/6/18/18684095/jersey-shore-houses-hurricane-sandy-fema

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