Storm has Silver Lining for Coastal Community
The waves, wind, rain, and flooding of “superstorm” Sandy brought unprecedented destruction and disruption to Brigantine Beach and other coastal New Jersey communities in late October, 2012. But a few years later, this community of 9,500 people is looking back and seeing the plusses from what was otherwise a very bad experience.
“Our community’s awareness of floodplain management was quadrupled by Hurricane Sandy and the by the Community Rating System immediately after this massive hurricane,” says Ed Stinson, City Manager.
Taking advantage of the fact that the impacts of a coastal storm were right in everyone’s faces, Brigantine, in cooperation with the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, launched an active public outreach program about the CRS activities that would reduce future flood losses.
“With the full support of our City Council, we held 15 public outreach meetings attended by 400–500 citizens,” Stinson says.
“Everyone left these meetings aware of the danger of living on our barrier island.” Not only that, but they knew there were things that they could do about it and that—as a bonus—it would help lower their flood insurance premiums.
Higher Standards for Buildings
Brigantine was already requiring that people construct new buildings to a level one foot above the base flood elevation. But the prospect of avoiding even more future damage and getting more discounts on flood insurance spurred an increase in that safety margin.
Again, with the support of City Council and the public, Brigantine established a requirement that new and substantially damaged buildings be elevated to three feet over the flood level, giving even more flood protection. This freeboard standard earns CRS points for the city.
“We realized that it is best to elevate homes before the next flood,” said Rich Stevens, Construction Official and Floodplain Manager for Brigantine.
Since Sandy, about 400 damaged properties have been either demolished or raised to the new level.
Along with the enhanced freeboard, the city adopted a “cumulative substantial improvement” rule. This means that buildings that are damaged repeatedly (but not seriously) over a seven-year period eventually will have to be elevated to the higher protection level. This forward-looking regulation also receives CRS credit points.
At only 10 square miles in area—almost half of it coastal marshes and water—Brigantine didn’t have much possibility for creating more open space. But after Sandy that city was able to purchase a 400-acre private golf course before it was sold and turned into a subdivision.
“It’s being preserved as a golf course and open space,” explained Rachael Beckner, Assistant CRS Coordinator and Technical Assistant to the Construction Official. “Places without buildings are places that won’t sustain serious damage in future flooding,” she said. Brigantine will earn more open space CRS credit points for this addition.
Flood Insurance Premiums
As of 2015, Brigantine has a Class 6 rating in the CRS. This translates into a $1.3 million savings in flood insurance premiums throughout the community.
“But,” Stinson said, “we are anticipating an increased rating at our next verification, and that should bring about another half-million in savings for our residents.”