VENTNOR - Thousands of residents are breathing easier after seeing new preliminary flood maps that remove their homes from the highest risk areas. While they will still likely have to make changes to their homes, many say it's a much better situation than it could've been.
"You know, it was always on the table that maybe we need to go." It was an option Tom Hewitt didn't like, but was forced to consider. Still in the midst of nearly $100,000 in repairs following Hurricane Sandy, he didn't know if he'd be able to stay in his Ventnor Heights home until learning the latest flood zone map has removed his property from the highest risk area.
"It's major," said Hewitt, "it's an absolute major sense of relief."
With the so-called velocity zone now 80% smaller, he and thousands of other homeowners are breathing a sigh of relief. "Those v-zones were based on a 1.5-3 foot oceanic type of wave breaking on the houses," explained Ventnor Mayor Mike Bagnell, "and the only way you're gonna get a 3 foot wave in the bay is if an aircraft carrier comes down there."
"For a 3 foot wind swell to get this close is impossible," said Hewitt. Because so many felt the previous maps were flawed, something called the Coastal Coalition was formed. Made up of mayor, engineers, and other officials from coastal cities from Little Egg Harbor down to Cape May Point, they worked with FEMA to try and more accurately identify the areas in the most danger.
"Originally there were approximately about 1,000 homes in Ventnor that would've fallen into v zones," said Bagnell, "and the problem with that is the type of construction that would've been required, they would've been required to put their homes up on pilings." A difficult and expensive process that could cost upwards of $100,000.
Homeowners aren't completely in the clear though, they'll likely still have to elevate their house using cement blocks, like Bill Devenny is in the process of doing, after his home was badly damaged in the storm. "Basically, we had to be at 11 feet," he said, "we decided to go 13, just to be safe."
While these new maps are just drafts, many residents say they're encouraging, especially after all of the unknowns following the storm, as far as what it would mean to own property near the water. "You're wondering whether you're going to be able to even afford your house anymore, especially because we just put out the money to buy the house," said Brittany Czekai, who's home fell in the v-zone. She and her family moved in two weeks before Sandy hit, "It's good to know that at least now we have a chance to raise it and still stay."
"Probably the best news we've had since Sandy hit," said Bagnell.
Updated drafts of maps for Atlantic, Ocean, Monmouth, and Hudson Counties were released, Cumberland and Cape May County maps should be coming in the next several weeks.
These are just preliminary working maps, which mean local officials now have the chance to give their input and suggest any potential changes.