TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Bob Gordon (D-Bergen/Passaic) that would require the state to update its flood maps more frequently and to use federal guidelines as the minimum standards in New Jersey – in order to protect the public from flooding and to facilitate smarter development – is now law.
“In Bergen County, we have seen areas devastated by flooding caused by excessive development near local waterways. Outdated flood maps only exacerbate the problem,” said Senator Gordon, D-Bergen and Passaic. “We need to make sure that our flood maps are updated and at least as protective as those issued by the federal government. These changes will better ensure that local officials, homeowners and business owners have the best information available about the changing flood risks in the area. This is important for sound planning but most importantly for the safety and security of our residents.”
Senator Gordon introduced the bill after learning that decades-old flood maps maintained by the state were required to be used in the review process of a proposed development project in New Milford, even though the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had more up-to-date mapping. The use of the Department of Environmental Protection’s map, developed in 1980, created concern from residents that the proposed development project could be built in a flood-prone area. At the time, the most recent FEMA maps were developed in 2005 but under state rules, could not be used in determining flood elevations if a state map existed, according to reports. The law is intended to provide the most accurate data for use by local officials when considering proposed projects – and by potential homeowners and developers when considering building on or purchasing land – in certain areas that may be flood-prone.
The law (S-308) amends the “Flood Hazard Area Control Act” to require the Department of Environmental Protection to update its delineations of flood hazard areas at least once every 15 years and to prioritize the preparations of updates based upon flood risk. It also requires the DEP, immediately upon the adoption of a floodplain delineation by FEMA, to make the new delineations the DEP’s minimum standard for the watercourse provided that it is sufficient to carry and discharge the flood flow of the watercourse and is at least as protective of the public safety, health and general welfare as the department’s. Finally, it requires that a permit application under the “Flood Hazard Area Control Act” be based on a floodplain delineation that is at least as protected as one approved by FEMA.
“The severe losses caused by flooding over the years in our area, and elsewhere in the state after Sandy, have taken a tremendous financial and emotional toll on our residents. We have to build smarter and make sure that development is not taking place in areas that will create additional flood problems down the road,” said Senator Gordon. “Using up-to-date flood zone information and establishing the federal requirements as the minimum standards will better protect our residents and better ensure the stability of our local infrastructure.”
The Assembly approved the bill by a vote of 62-2. The Senate approved the amended bill by a vote of 38-0. The law takes effect immediately.