(TRENTON) - Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Tim Eustace, Joseph Lagana, Gabriela Mosquera and Valerie Vainieri Huttle to help protect the public from flooding and facilitate smart development was released by an Assembly panel on Thursday.
The legislation (A-1726) would require the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to quickly evaluate any newly released FEMA floodplain delineations in order to allow permit applicants to apply for a permit using the federal floodplain delineation when it is at least as protective as the DEP's delineation.
"Accurate and up-to-date delineations of floodplains and flood hazard areas are essential to inform state and local officials and property owners of changing flood risks," said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). "Bergen and Passaic counties are no strangers to the hazards of flooding. But the ever changing landscape of our state requires that we stay on top of these patterns to residents and business owners avoid flood traps."
"Over the years, many flood maps have become outdated due to urban growth, changes in river flows and coastlines, and even flood mitigation efforts," said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). "A home or business that may have once been located in a flood zone might not now, and vice versa. In the interest of public safety and economic progress, it's important that we make sure these flood designations are kept current."
Currently, the "Flood Hazard Area Control Act" requires the DEP to study the nature and extent of the areas affected by flooding in the state and to delineate flood hazard areas as areas where improper development and usage would constitute a threat to the safety, health, and general welfare from flooding.
The bill would amend the state "Flood Hazard Area Control Act" to direct DEP to update its delineations of flood hazard areas as appropriate and at least once every 15 years, as well as whenever FEMA adopts a new floodplain delineation.
"Sandy had a devastating effect on my property owners who previously didn't think they were even located in a flood zone," said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). "This underscores the need to make sure our flood maps are as accurate and up-to-date as possible because we never know where the next storm may hit."
"One of the many lessons we learned from Sandy is that the landscape in many parts of our state is changing rapidly and extensively," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "For the long-term benefit of homeowners and businesses, alike, we need to make sure we're relying on the most up-to-date planning information."
Under the DEP's current rules and regulations, if there is a DEP delineation of a particular flood hazard area and floodplain, a permit applicant is required to use the DEP's delineation even if there is a more recent FEMA delineation. Under the bill, a person would be required to apply for a permit, or any other type of approval or authorization, for a site based upon a floodplain delineation, if (1) the federal floodplain delineation is more recent than the DEP's delineation for the same watercourse, and (2) the DEP determines that the federal floodplain delineation is sufficient to carry and discharge the flood flow of the watercourse and is at least as protective of the public safety, health, and general welfare as the department's delineation.
The bill was released by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.