By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
City Council introduced a new ordinance Tuesday that represents Sea Isle City’s updated strategy for protecting the low-lying barrier island from flooding.
The lengthy ordinance replaces Sea Isle’s old flood prevention plan and is a critical step in the city’s efforts to regain its coveted “Class 3” status in the National Flood Insurance Program.
“This is an important action that the Council will take, as the adoption of this ordinance will ensure that the city retains Class 3 status in the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System,” Mayor Leonard Desiderio said in a statement.
Sea Isle slipped recently in the nationwide community ranking system used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to determine the level of discounts homeowners receive on their flood insurance.
Once considered a Class 3 community, Sea Isle has dropped down to “Class 4” following the loss of points formerly given out by FEMA for flood-mitigation measures that towns and cities implemented following Super Storm Sandy in 2012. All communities have lost the “Sandy points,” not just Sea Isle.
“As we’ve discussed previously, due to recent changes in the manner that communities are scored in the program, some of the actions that were taken following Super Storm Sandy were no longer considered eligible by FEMA. Despite that, the city worked in conjunction with FEMA to determine further actions we could take to maintain our Class 3 status,” Desiderio said.
City Solicitor Paul Baldini explained that the Sandy points were essentially a bonus that helped Sea Isle to achieve Class 3 status. Under the community ranking system used by FEMA, homeowners in towns or cities designated as Class 3 are eligible for 35 percent discounts on their flood insurance. Homeowners in communities with a Class 4 ranking are eligible for a 30 percent discount.
Once in danger of being thrown out of the National Flood Insurance Program in 1993, Sea Isle has undergone a dramatic transformation since then and was recently ranked as one of the nation’s leading communities in flood prevention before it lost its Class 3 status.
“Sea Isle has worked very hard to achieve Class 3 status – we were the first to achieve this rating in New Jersey several years ago,” Desiderio said.
The new flood prevention ordinance will allow Sea Isle to regain its Class 3 status. Baldini said FEMA is already reviewing the ordinance and has indicated that Sea Isle will now have enough points to vault back into Class 3 by this fall.
“They’re working on it as we speak on the good-faith representation that the city will adopt this ordinance,” Baldini said of FEMA.
A public hearing and final vote on the ordinance are scheduled for the June 13 Council meeting.
Desiderio thanked Baldini and Sea Isle’s floodplain manager and construction official, Neil Byrne, for their work in helping the city to restore its Class 3 status.
“They’ve been involved with this program and this process for many years, and all our homeowners with flood insurance enjoy a substantial discount as a result of the city’s participation in the (community rating system) program,” Desiderio said.
Over the years, Sea Isle has implemented a series of major flood-mitigation projects, such as restoring the beaches and dunes, building bulkheads along the bayfront, reconstructing the roads, improving the drainage systems and erecting berms, levees and rock walls to block stormwater.
The city has also built a stormwater pumping station in the flood-prone bayfront neighborhood at 38th Street and Sounds Avenue. City officials say more pumping stations will be built to protect low-lying neighborhoods vulnerable to flooding.
In an interview after the Council meeting, Baldini explained that Sea Isle’s new ordinance includes local requirements that are even more rigorous than some of the flood-mitigation standards used by state of New Jersey.
“We’re a leader in our ordinance. We have a lot of stuff that they don’t have,” Baldini said, comparing Sea Isle’s standards to the state flood prevention requirements.
Some of the tougher local requirements include higher base elevation standards for new construction projects to protect Sea Isle’s homes from flooding.
Sea Isle will also have more building inspections to make sure that homes are complying with the flood-protection standards.
Baldini said Sea Isle’s updated strategy for flood prevention is not only more modern, but also “more innovative.”
“To maintain our points, we had to get more innovative,” he said.