Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Tim Eustace, Joseph Lagana, Gabriela Mosquera, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Benjie Wimberly to help protect the public against flooding and facilitate smart development has been signed into law.
"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 help residents and business owners avoid flood traps."
The new law (A-1726) directs the Department of Environmental Protection to update its delineations of flood hazard areas when the Federal Emergency Management Agency issues changes based upon flood risk or at least once every 15 years.
"Over the years, many flood maps have become outdated due to urban growth, changes in river flows and coastlines and even flood mitigation efforts," said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic).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."
The law also requires a permit for a site based upon a floodplain delineation if the federal floodplain delineation is more recent than the DEP delineation for the same watercourse and the DEP determines that the federal floodplain delineation is sufficient to carry and discharge the flood flow and is at least as protective of the public safety, health and general welfare as the department's delineation.
"Hurricane Sandy had a devastating effect on many 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."
Under previously existing rules and regulations, when a DEP delineation of a particular flood hazard area and floodplain exists, a permit applicant is required to use the DEP delineation even if there is a more recent FEMA delineation.
"While we cannot eliminate the risk of flooding entirely, having the most accurate flood maps possible will enable property owners and local officials to plan for future occurrences and do all they can to limit the extent of the damage," said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). "This law will help empower communities to prepare themselves at the local level."
The department shall, wherever practicable, make flood hazard area delineations as least as protective as the floodplain delineations approved by FEMA for the National Flood Insurance Program.
"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."
The law amends the Flood Hazard Area Control Act, which requires the DEP to study the nature and extent of areas affected by flooding in New Jersey and delineate flood hazard areas in an effort to guard public safety, health and general welfare.