Uncertainties Linger After FEMA Town Hall in Lacey
FEMA representatives encourage residents to 'apply to everything'
Patrick and Victoria Knapp went to Lacey Middle School looking for answers on elevating their flood-damaged home.
“It’s been confusing. There’s a lot of uncertainty. There still is,” Victoria Knapp said at the FEMA Town Hall meeting held Monday night.
The couple returned to their Lanoka Harbor home two days after Hurricane Sandy inundated the area with its floodwaters. Their home had taken in a couple feet of water.
“Everything was soaked and ruined,” Patrick Knapp said.
Now, more than four months later, the couple has returned their home to habitable, although the technical process is still ongoing.
The Knapps have yet to receive a final flood check for their home that was declared approximately 75 percent damaged. They have received $5,000 of $20,000, Patrick Knapp said.
“Now we’re just waiting,” he said. “We need to elevate. We would like to get it over with.”
That’s what the town hall meeting was for — the technical process. Representatives from FEMA, the Small Business Administration (SBA), Advisory Base Flood Elevations, flood insurance, Hazard Mitigation and Lacey’s building department and tax assessor’s office were on hand to assist locals in rebuilding.
Approximately 100 people attended the meeting, some who have yet to begin an application with FEMA.
“There’s 1,000 scenarios we can postulate with each individual case,” Mayor David Most said. “We’ve had FEMA come out to our township meeting and I think the most important thing to understand is that you are responsible for your own plan.”
‘Apply to Everything’
Local residents are encouraged to apply for everything, said Amanda von Leer, District Field Correspondent for Congressman Jon Runyan’s office.
“We do encourage everyone, if you have an inkling that you may benefit from a program that you may be eligible for, that you apply to everything,” she said. “Even if it means that you get rejected. We encourage you to apply because there may be assistance or relief down the road.”
Runyan’s office can be used as a “secondary resource” to constituents when they hit roadblocks, she said.
It is not too late for Hurricane Sandy victims to begin the process. The FEMA and SBA deadlines have been extended to Monday, April 1.
“Even if you don’t want to take the (SBA) loan, apply for it,” said Barbara Edwards, representing FEMA Individual Assistance. “Think of it as a safety net in case you need it down the line.”
The SBA provides homeowners with up to $200,000 to help rebuild from damage due to the storm. Homeowners and renters could also qualify for up to $40,000 of personal property replacement such as clothing, furniture, appliances and even a personal automobile, if not covered by insurance.
These loans are typically low interest. The rate could be 1.688 percent for up to 30 years.
Residents denied a loan, typically because of financial circumstances, have six months to request reconsideration. Those who do not qualify for a SBA disaster loan would return to the FEMA process for possible assistance, she said.
“Do not give up,” Edwards said of those residents who have gotten denied. “That means there is something in your case that we can fix in just a few minutes.”
Common explanations for denial are women who used social security cards with their maiden name or a missing document, she said.
Residents also have the ability to qualify for Increase Cost of Compliance (ICC), which is through their flood insurance policy and can provide up to $30,000. This is for residents whose homes sustained damage amounting to more than 50 percent of its market value, said Christopher Toney of the National Flood Insurance Program.
Although FEMA’s deadline has been extended until April 1, residents interested in a Hazard Mitigation grant must apply by Friday, March 15.
“Hazard mitigation is to build back safer, smarter, stronger,” said Virginia Hale, representing FEMA Advisory Base Flood Elevation maps.
But funds are limited, said Andrew Martin, representing the FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. The program can provide up to 75 percent of the cost for elevation and acquisition projects.
Prior to the Town Hall meeting, more than 250 residents had signed up, amounting to more than $12 million requested, Township Administrator and Municipal Clerk Veronica Laureigh said.
Whereas the SBA may have income requirements, this program does not. It’s for homeowners of a primary or secondary home, Martin said. Homes that were not damaged in Hurricane Sandy but did sustain some in Irene or are at risk of being damaged are also eligible.
But the catch is, residents waiting on this program cannot begin elevating their homes until they receive a letter of approval from the state or township, he said.
The township is uncertain of how much money would be distributed to Lacey through this program but primary residents in a V zone would come first, then primary residents in an A zone, followed by secondary residents, Laureigh said.
FEMA designated flood prone areas as zone A Approximate flood zones. Zone A is based on FEMA's best guess of where flooding would occur in a 100-year flood event. The V zone designates a Coastal Velocity Zone, where the hazards of flooding increase because of wave velocity. Homes in a V zone must be raised higher.
"These maps are years and years in the making," Hale said, adding that the latest technology, hydraulics, engineering and satellite information was utilized to generate the maps. "It’s been worked on for years and because of Sandy we tried to get them out to you as quickly as possible."
The township will be adopting the flood advisory maps in the near future and then will adopt the regulatory maps in August, when the maps won’t be as restrictive, Laureigh said.
While many residents want to move forward in the rebuilding process, waiting can prove to be in their favor. It is possible that those who are currently located in a V zone will be downgraded, although grand changes are not expected, said John Curtin, township Director of Community Development.
Residents who are looking to elevate have to increase the height of their homes according to the Advisory Base Flood Elevation plus one foot as required by the state, he said.
“I pray they shrink the V zone,” he said.
The science behind the FEMA maps is solid, Curtin said, recommending that residents in the A zone who are prepared to elevate to move forward. But he advised those in the V zone to wait it out.
Lacey homes with a crawl space or basement can more easily be elevated while it’ll be more difficult for those on slabs, many of which are 50 to 60 years old, he said.
“They have to weigh their options,” he said.
Darcie Keyes and her husband are ready to elevate but can't, she said.
“It’s been a slow process,” said Keyes of Pennsylvania. “The government has dragged its feet.”
Keyes has a secondary home in Forked River, right off of the Barnegat Bay. She and her husband visited their home to assess the damage the weekend after the storm.
“There was a lot of mud in the home,” she said, adding that the waterline was at approximately 10 inches. “It looked like a warzone on the street.”
The couple has since stripped the house.
“We’re about ready to get started with reconstruction,” she said.
The Keyes attended the Town Hall with questions on the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program and may have to wait to elevate, as they’ve been told it could take a year or two before funding is disbursed.
Keyes is concerned that they will have to pay more in flood insurance until then.
“You’re dealing with all unknowns,” she said. “It’s frustrating.”
- FEMA: 1-800-621-3362
- SBA: 1-800-659-2955
- Mariella Kuchenbrod, Constituent Service Liaison for Congressman Runyan’s Office in Toms River: 732-279-6013
- Lacey Community Development and Zoning: 609-693-1100, ext. 2250.
- Lacey Tax Assessor: 609-693-1100, ext. 2242