Bill wants to set standards for house-raising contractors

TRENTON – Roderick Scott wants post-Sandy New Jersey to learn from post-Katrina Louisiana’s mistakes.

Not that it’s a position the state would have chosen to be in, but “New Jersey is on the front lines” of raising structures to withstand future flooding, said Scott, who has more than 20 years of experience in the field of flood restoration and champions a bill that will be in committee Thursday to ensure that the people who raise structures are reliable.

S2976/A4394 are bipartisan bills that will mandate standards for home elevation contractors. The Senate Environment and Energy Committee will hold a hearing for the proposal that could provide a blueprint for workers and property owners regarding work that is going to be occurring for decades.

“It’s not so much that there is not enough oversight, it’s more the inexperience of the state’’ in having to deal with such a sheer volume of post-Sandy elevation expertise, said Scott, who is with Baumgardner House Lifting in Egg Harbor Township.

The bill, sponsored in the Senate by Sens. Bob Smith, (D-17), Piscataway, and Christopher Bateman, (R-16), Somerville, would put several standards in place:

*A contractor must be registered with the Department of Community Affairs.

*The contractor must have at least two years of experience in the field under the guidance of an experienced home elevation contractor.

*All contractors must use a unified jacking machine capable of lifting an entire structure in a synchronized manner.

*Contractors must have a minimum of $1 million in liability insurance.

*They must have an additional $500,000 to cover the structure’s contents.

Scott estimated that in New Jersey, more than 100,000 structures – homes, churches, businesses – will be raised during the next 20 years.

“There is going to be a tremendous demand, and we only have so many contractors,’’ he said.

For Smith, this is a matter of the utmost consumer protection.

“There are people (contractors) out of state and in-state who don’t normally do this,’’ he said. “There are people in the state who are converting their business into a home elevation business; they have to have the proper equipment.”

He already has seen examples of what can go wrong.

“The classic one is in Atlantic Highlands,’’ Smith said.

In August, a home there that was being raised slid into the adjacent house.  Both buildings had to be demolished.

In Louisiana, three to four years into rebuilding from the hurricane, the mistakes started to appear in projects down there.

“We want to bring the learning experience of the Gulf to New Jersey’’ to prevent propery owners from being victimized twice, Scott said.

“You should only have to raise the foundation once; you should do it above the minimum’’ standards set by the federal government, he said.

The contractor bill is just one of several Sandy-related proposals that the Environment Committee will hear on Thursday.

Others on the agenda include financing of flood- and hurricane-resistance projects and another is a resolution urging Congress to exempt from penalties some Sandy-related hardship distributions from 401(k) plans.

Bill wants to set standards for house-raising contractors