MIDDLETOWN – The Federal Emergency Management Agency will conduct a comprehensive study and analysis of the East Keansburg Levee system to determine if the system provides adequate flood protection for thousands of North Middletown residents.

That’s great news for this Bayshore neighborhood located in Middletown Township where residents living here are facing astronomical flood insurance rate increases under the new preliminary flood maps, despite the fact that the area has never suffered flooding damage since the system was built in the early 70’s.

 

FEMA’s commitment to conduct the study comes as a result public and political outreach by Township officials. Both the offices of Congressman Chris Smith and Frank Pallone reached out to FEMA for assistance. Meetings were held with Smith, Pallone, Middletown officials, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other state and federal agencies. Grassroots efforts by North Middletown residents including a letter writing campaign were also part of the push to get FEMA to take another look at the levee system.

“We are thankful to our Congressional delegation for helping us convince FEMA that the East Keansburg Levee System is worthy of further analysis,” said Mayor Stephanie Murray. “Thousands of homes in neighboring Bayshore neighborhoods were severely affected by flooding in Superstorm Sandy as well as Hurricane Irene. We contend that North Middletown is spared from flooding because of the levee and pump system. Residents deserve flood insurance rates that accurately reflect the protection provided by the levees.”

Roughly 1,400 North Middletown homes were placed in a flood zone in 2009 when the East Keansburg Levee System was “de-certified” and became “non-accredited” by FEMA . With the new rates scheduled to go into effect as a result of the Biggert Waters Act, area residents would be forced to pay extremely high insurance rates, explained Township Administrator Anthony Mercantante.

“This is a huge first step in the process. We are optimistic this study will show that the levee system provides an adequate measure of flood protection and that the North Middletown neighborhood will be re-designated to reflect a lesser flood risk so that homeowners will see more appropriately priced flood insurance rates,” said Township Administrator Anthony P. Mercantante.

FEMA’s preliminary revised flood maps were released for Monmouth County on January 31st, but they are far from final. The maps must go through an extensive review process before taking effect. FEMA officials anticipate that any new maps—and any rate changes—will not become effective for 12 to 18 months, which provides time for study results to be taken into consideration.  

“We are thankful that FEMA has now identified funding to undertake this important study, particularly after correspondence in which [FEMA Region II Administrator Jerome] Hatfield stated that FEMA was looking to explore this option and work together with local stakeholders,” said Smith. “We hope this new study will enable FEMA to determine the effectiveness of the East Keansburg Levee system and provide them with the most comprehensive and up-to-date information as they conclude analysis of the region’s flood maps.”

In the coming weeks FEMA will be creating a Local Levee Partnership Team which will act as an advisory panel and bring local input into the process. “We are looking forward to working with FEMA on the levee analysis,” Mercantante said.

Following Hurricane Katrina, many levees nationwide were “de-certified” and became “non-accredited” by FEMA because they were not seen as adequate protection from the one-percent-annual-chance flood. However, the agency has since recognized that levee systems which do not meet the regulatory accreditation requirements may still provide a measure of flood risk reduction. This levee analysis may provide evidence that more flood protection exists and thus more accurately reflect an area’s flood risk, according to Rep. Chris Smith.

According to FEMA guidelines, a levee system is a flood protection system that consists of a levee and associated structures which are constructed and operated in accordance with sound engineering practices to reduce the likelihood of flooding due to an adjacent flooding source such as a river, lake, or ocean.  The level to which a levee system is determined to provide flood protection is indicated in FEMA flood maps—the more protection the levee system provides, the lower the flood risk which can result in lower premiums for homeowners.

For more than 40 years North Middletown has been served by a flood management system of levees, dunes, and pumps. This unique system has been effective since its installation in the 1970s. Even during Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy, when much of the coast was badly flooded, the homes in North Middletown remained protected, Mercantante said. 

In his November letter to Hatfield, Rep. Smith addressed FEMA’s decision to put the North Middletown neighborhood in a flood zone in 2009. In his letter Smith said, “With flood insurance rates expected to greatly increase, residents of the North Middletown community are rightly concerned about the grave financial strain they are facing and how a hefty insurance rate hike will affect their property values.”  Smith also called on FEMA to begin “properly addressing the flood zone designation for this neighborhood.”

Responding to Smith’s letter Hatfield said FEMA was looking into “a new policy that allows FEMA to consider a more refined depiction of the flooding risk for areas behind hydraulically independent components of a non-certified levee system such as the one in the neighborhood of North Middletown.”  Commenting on the local flood protection system now in place in Middletown Township Hatfield said, “empirical evidence helps suggest that the system may be hydraulically significant; therefore, it may be providing some measurable level of protection for local residents on the landward side.”

Last year, there were 28 levee analysis pilot projects done across the United States, however none took place in New Jersey.  This soon-to-be-conducted study will use the best practices learned from the pilot projects to look at the levee system in the entire Middletown, Keansburg, Union Beach and surrounding area.