By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Sea Isle City is creating a special trust fund that will help finance flood-control projects on a low-lying island vulnerable to stormwater.
The “floodplain management account” will be funded by existing fees that applicants pay to Sea Isle’s construction office to conduct zoning reviews of construction and renovation projects, City Solicitor Paul Baldini said. The fees range from $75 to $150.
City Councilman Jack Gibson suggested taking 50 percent of those fees to provide the funding source for the floodplain management account to avoiding hitting local homeowners with any new charges.
“It’s a good thing for the people of Sea Isle that they won’t be paying extra fees,” Gibson said.
Taking the first step to create the trust fund, City Council introduced an ordinance Tuesday to formalize the program. A public hearing and final vote on the ordinance are scheduled for the Council meeting on June 23.
Gibson and Baldini explained that the new fund will provide only a modest amount of money for flood-prevention projects. Baldini noted, for instance, that it might be a source of funding for public outreach and educational programs about Sea Isle’s flood-management efforts.
The ordinance introduced by Council specifies that the new account is for “the exclusive purpose of future flood prevention, planning, and mitigation.”
Baldini said money from the account might be combined with other types of funding, such as state or federal grants that are awarded to Sea Isle for flood-control projects.
Moreover, the trust fund carries major implications for Sea Isle’s relationship with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the National Flood Insurance Program administered by FEMA.
Sea Isle is among only a few cities and towns in the country to have obtained a “Class 3” community rating within the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), entitling local property owners to a 35 percent discount on their flood insurance policies.
Once in danger of being thrown out of the NFIP in 1993, Sea Isle has undergone a dramatic transformation since then and is now considered one of the nation’s leading communities in flood prevention, Mayor Leonard Desiderio has said.
Gibson explained that the new floodplain management fund will keep Sea Isle “in the good graces” of FEMA by creating what is essentially a bank account to finance flood-control projects.
Sea Isle’s updated watershed master plan is up for review later this year by FEMA. As part of that review process, FEMA wanted Sea Isle to have a dedicated funding source to help finance flood-mitigation projects, Baldini noted.
“They wanted money in a bank account that is funded,” he said.
Baldini said there was no such account the last time FEMA reviewed Sea Isle’s watershed master plan.
By creating the fund, Sea Isle will be in position to be awarded 25 extra points as part of FEMA’s community rating system for the National Flood Insurance Program.
Ultimately, Sea Isle hopes to accumulate enough points to move up to “Class 2” status in the community ratings system, which would provide local homeowners with even steeper discounts for their flood insurance policies, Baldini said.
Over the years, Sea Isle has implemented a series of major flood-mitigation initiatives, such as restoring the beaches and dunes, building bulkheads along the bayfront, reconstructing the roads, upgrading the drainage systems and erecting berms and levees.
Last year, it added a number of new projects, including a stormwater pumping station, flashing road signs equipped with sensors to warn motorists of flooding and even a “flood cam” that livestreams images on a 24/7 basis from one of Sea Isle’s most flood-prone intersections.