Senate panel OKs bill providing exemption from local control when meeting new FEMA heights

TRENTON – The Senate Environment and Energy Committee dealt Thursday with six bills and a resolution, most of which are directly related to the destruction from Superstorm Sandy last year.

The bills up first dealt with exemptions from local approvals to meet higher federal elevation standards for homes and a resolution urging the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers to assess Sandy’s damage and how to prevent it in the future.

S2958: This bill, passed unanimously, would provide a person with a limited exemption from local land use restrictions when raising a structure to meet a new base flood elevation set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

This exception would not be available for new construction.

Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Smith said the philosophical basis is for property owners hurt by the storm to rebuild at higher elevations without going through local planning because it adds three to six months – at least – and thousands of dollars of additional fees.

The N.J. League of Municipalities opposes the measure out of concern over circumventing local planning processes.

But Sen. Jim Whelan said if thousands of homes had to appear for local approvals it would be years before homes could be raised to the higher, safer levels.

Michael Cerra of the League said some towns already are attempting to streamline the process. “It’s not just the applicant who has a stake in this, but the neighbors and the surrounding communities,” he said, which is one reason this should remain a local concern.

But Whelan said this is a federal issue, not a local issue, because the federal government is saying you meet these new heights or you don’t get flood insurance.

Amendments include a provision that the bill would not exempt someone from complying with the State Department of Environmental Protection regulations.

The committee also passed SR100 by a vote of 3-0. This urges the Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA to conduct an assessment of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy and to provide an analysis of measures to prevent similar damage in the future.

The N.J. Association of Realtors and the Sierra Club supported the resolution.

Senate panel OKs bill providing exemption from local control when meeting new FEMA heights