2013-03-08 / Top Stories

Answers And Issues At BC Civic

By Dan Guarino

FEMA’s George Klitzke addresses an audience of more than 350 people at a meeting of the Broad Channel Civic Association. Photos by Dan Guarino. FEMA’s George Klitzke addresses an audience of more than 350 people at a meeting of the Broad Channel Civic Association. Photos by Dan Guarino. More than 350 people packed into the American Legion Hall on Cross Bay Boulevard in Broad Channel on Thursday, February 28th.

The Broad Channel Civic Association, which has been very active in post-Sandy issues, had invited officials from FEMA to their monthly meeting to address both the newly released Advisory Base Flood Elevation Levels (ABFE’s) and the impact of the Biggert-Waters Act.

Residents gathered from all over Rockaway and Broad Channel as well as other parts of Queens. Many residents, currently displaced by the storm, came in from all areas. Many people stood for the entire three hour plus meeting.

FEMA representative George Klitzke led the attentive audience through a Power Point explanation of what ABFE’s mean and how they apply to homeowners. Klitzke explained that ABFE guidelines structure should be to provide maximum safety in case of flooding. Depending on how many feet above the ABFE a person builds or raises their house, there is also a long term reduction on insurance rates.

Based on scientific data and long term studies, the ABFE heights are calculated by starting from a predetermined sea level. Added to that is the elevation on which the home is already sitting on.

Explained Klitze, “If the ground (under your home) is 5 feet from sea level, and the ABFE is 14, the lowest floor would have to be 9 feet above the ground.”

He later noted that this applies to the lowest floor of actual living space. A homeowner could build a garage under their home or an unused basement.

Civic Association President Dan Mundy Jr., later clarified that going forward no boilers, water heaters or utilities could be located on these lower floors.

FEMA last issued flood elevation maps in the mid-1980’s. Klitzke acknowledged that work on new maps was underway before the storm.

“We were doing this anyway,” he said. “Did Sandy speed this up? Yes, it did.”

He also noted they are advisory only and that municipalities such as New York would have to accept them before they would become the law. Later in the meeting it was explained that this would entail a two year review including public comment. Home owners would generally be granted an additional few years to implement any changes.

Klitzke directed audience members to www.region2.coastal.com for more specific information, stating, “You can pick out your house exactly on the map.”

“Know your risks,” he said. “Know where you are at. Know your role- what you can do to reduce your risk. Take action.

“This is designed to help you know your risk.”

Although the meeting was civil, residents as well as civic leaders and elected officials, persistently pursued several points of dispute.

Stated Mundy, “It seems like a knee jerk reaction.

“The Army Corps of Engineers recorded a wave height of 10.38 feet in the Bay. But Base Flood Elevation is 15 feet. Aren’t we well above that actual danger zone, if we’ve already built above that 10.38 feet?

“We’re told Sandy is a 250 year storm, and yet now I am raising the house 18 feet. Now I am in danger of the house blowing over!”

He also pointed out the disparity “of places that really got hit, where houses got knocked down, that have lower elevations than Broad Channel” which didn’t sustain the same kinds of damage.

On a motion from Channel longtime resident Dan Mundy Sr., the Broad Channel Civic Association went on record as opposing the adoption of the new flood elevations.

The meeting next addressed the Biggert Waters Act, which will have a direct impact on flood insurance rates across the country.

According to the Insurance Journal, the legislation, formally known as the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act of 2012, “extends the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) for five years, until September 30th, 2017” and “calls for reforms including phasing out subsidies for many properties, raising the cap on annual premium increases from 10 percent to 20 percent.”

Signed into law on July 6th, 2012, the act was prompted by the financial impact on NFIP stemming from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Diane Kidder, a FEMA national flood insurance specialist, explained the details of the program and the changes to the new law.

Speaking to the newly designated flood areas and elevations effect on insurance, she noted that “until the ABFE’s are adopted by (New York City) current rates are absolutely still in effect.”

“The bottom line of the Biggert- Waters Act is to get people to elevate, to be safe,” said Kidder.

“This is an absolute disaster for coastal communities,” stated Mundy Jr. “Other coastal areas are already catching on,” he said, referring to officials in New Jersey, who “are already up in arms.”

On February 26th, the Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders passed a resolution that recommends changes to the Biggert-Waters Act.

“This is a flawed bill, a seriously flawed bill,” said Mundy.

Elected official and also residents echoed this sentiment.

Said one man, “If my insurance goes up, I can’t afford my house. That’s it.”

Assemblyman Philip Goldfeder, City Councilman Eric Ulrich, State Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr. and Joe Edwards, a representative for Congressman Gregory Meeks all spoke to the negative impact both Biggert- Waters and the new elevations would have.

Said Addabbo, “Broad Channel is too great a community to leave.

“These new maps could be the ruination of our community-the Rockaways, Broad Channel, and Howard Beach. We can’t let that be.

“City, state and federal officials need to work out what we need to do so people can stay where they are.”

The Civic Association passed a resolution stating that Broad Channel is opposed to the Biggert-Waters Act.

Despite sharp disagreements with the policies, which would affect many personally, and stated difficulties with the post-Sandy recovery process, the meeting was noted for its civility.

All parties, including FEMA representatives and officials, got a chance to speak, and frustrations did not boil over into raised voices.

Said one Broad Channel man, “We may still disagree with the policies. And we will definitively be taking it further. But we’ll listen and treat people with respect.”

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