• Ed Wright’s house sits at the center of this NOAA aerial photo surrounded by water and sand, where crews are rebuilding the washed-away portions of the barrier island breached by Hurricane Sandy in Mantaloking. Wright’s house, elevated on pilings, survived virtually intact while neighboring homes were completely destroyed.

    Credit: NOAA

    Ed Wright’s house sits at the center of this NOAA aerial photo surrounded by water and sand, where crews are rebuilding the washed-away portions of the barrier island breached by Hurricane Sandy in Mantaloking. Wright’s house, elevated on pilings, survived virtually intact while neighboring homes were completely destroyed.

As they come to grips with the monumental task of rebuilding shorelines hammered by Hurricane Sandy, New Jersey shore dwellers have to come to grips with another new reality: changing floodplain maps for their locations, with new boundaries and new elevations. Some homeowners on the shore will find themselves newly located in a flood zone, while those who already live in the flood zone will find out — if they haven’t already — that the official Base Flood Elevation (BFE) for their property is higher than it used to be.

Or at least, that will be the case when FEMA’s new floodplain maps, released in advisory form on December 15, become the official maps sometime in 2013 or 2014. Philadelphia Public Radio station WHYY has this report (“Changes to flood maps, insurance rates cloud rebuilding decisions at Jersey Shore,” by Carolyn Beeber). “New federal flood insurance policies and flood maps are complicating an already gut-wrenching decision to repair, rebuild, or flee,” says the report. “Up and down the Shore, many are wrestling with this decision. It has been made even more confusing by new advisory flood maps released by FEMA. They raise the base-flood level in many communities on the Shore anywhere from one to five feet. They do not influence insurance rates, but flood maps using the same data eventually will. The advisory maps, once finalized, will influence construction codes along the Shore.”

Information about the advisory maps is online at a FEMA web page (“Hurricane Sandy Advisory Base Flood Elevations in New Jersey and New York”). And even though the maps aren’t finalized yet, some New Jersey towns are already moving to adopt the new maps into zoning and code ordinances. In Long Branch, officials announced on December 27 that the city would require homes to be elevated two feet above the new BFE, reported the Atlanticville (“City maps to exceed FEMA flood elevations,” by Kenny Walter). Officials said that houses built to the new rule would have flood insurance premiums of just $427 a year — as compared to $9,500 a year for a house built four feet below the BFE.

  • Seaside Mantoloking house built above ground on eight-foot stilts survived the wind and waves that destroyed all the homes around it.

    Credit: NY Daily News

    Seaside Mantoloking house built above ground on eight-foot stilts survived the wind and waves that destroyed all the homes around it.

For an example, you need look no farther than the house of Edwin Wright, a retired shop teacher who built his house 30 years ago in Mantaloking, N.J. Wright designed the house on pilings, with breakaway walls on the lower story. “His contractors thought he was eccentric,” the New York Times reports (“On Ravaged Coastline, It’s Rebuild Deliberately vs. Rebuild Now,” by David M. Halbfinger, Charles V. Bagli and Sarah Maslin Nir).

Now, 18 of his neighbors’ homes are gone — brought to the ground and washed away by the flood. “Hurricane Sandy obliterated all the houses around it, shoved them off their foundations, flattened them, crushed them into splinters, but the house that Ed built was left standing straight and tall, trim and strong, windows, roofs and siding intact and only minor damage inside,” reports the Star-Ledger (“The Mantoloking miracle: Why did Sandy spare this one lone home?” by Tomas Dinges).

“It was all in one piece," Wright told the Star-Ledger — "like we had just gone to eat, as if we had just gone out." Looking at the surrounding devastation isn’t easy for Wright — he choked up while talking to New York Times reporters — but his advice to neighbors is heartfelt, and realistic: “If they just put up what they have before,” he told the paper, “they’re going to lose it again.”