Legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Connie Wagner (D) and Assemblyman Timothy Eustace (D) to help protect the public from flooding and facilitate smart development was approved by an Assembly panel on Monday.
The bill (A-3262) would require the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to quickly evaluate any newly released FEMA flood maps in order to allow applicants to apply for a permit using the federal floodway delineation when it is at least as protective as the DEP's delineation. Senator Robert Gordon (D) is the primary sponsor of the senate version of this bill (S-2208).
"Over the years, many flood maps have become outdated due to urban growth, changes in river flows and coastlines, and even flood mitigation efforts," said Wagner. "A home or business that may have once been located in a flood zone might not now, and vice versa. In the interest of public safety and economic progress, it's important that we make sure these flood designations are kept current."
Currently if a town has an existing DEP map, which New Milford does, then the FEMA map cannot be used, or relied upon, in determining flood elevations. The 1980 DEP flood map trumps the 2005 FEMA map. The FEMA map is primarily intended for use by the National Flood Insurance Program only.
Central to the recent Zoning Board hearings regarding the proposed development of the United Water property is the developer's reliance on DEP flood maps that date to 1980. Members of New Milford's grassroots group SOD (Stop Over Development), have been questioning experts regarding their position on the validity of the 1980 map as a tool for determining flooding on the United Water property.
Hekemian's engineer, Michael Dipple, testified that he relied on the 1980 NJDEP state map because it is the state regulatory map and the one that Dipple said he is required to use in determining his calculations.
"If a state map is available we are required to use it," Dipple said.
Due to the flooding events that have occurred since the 1980 DEP map was created, residents want any updates to the map to reflect the reality of the area now under consideration for development by Hekemian.
"Accurate and up-to-date delineations of floodways and flood hazard areas are essential to inform state and local officials and property owners of changing flood risks," said Eustace. "Bergen and Passaic counties are no strangers to the hazards of flooding. But the ever changing landscape of our state requires that we stay on top of these patterns so residents and business owners avoid flood traps."
The bill would amend the state "Flood Hazard Area Control Act" to direct DEP to update its delineations of flood hazard areas as frequently as necessary and at a minimum of at least once every 15 years, as well as whenever FEMA adopts a new floodway delineation.
The bill will now go to the full Assembly for approval.