Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Andy on Sandy: V-Zone Voodoo

If you are a coastal resident, you likely have heard that FEMA revised their flood mapping on an “advisory” basis last week. The mapping changes are wholesale in nature, and include increases in predicted flood elevations and the number of properties subject to flooding. The implications of these changes affect flood insurance and the development potential of land. As an example, I’m working on a site on the Raritan Bay where the flood elevation increased by 9 feet! As you can imagine, that puts a big kink in the Owner’s plans to redevelop the site.

A-Zone Flooding
Among the many changes, the proliferation of V-Zones is one of the most dramatic. To understand what a V-Zone is, consider the following photos. The flooding that you see at right is an A-Zone flood. It is flooding that is generally devoid of waves and currents. In contrast, a V-Zone is an area where waves exist, and are expected to cause substantial damage to structures (see image below).  The substantial damage expectation causes development in V-Zones to be highly regulated.
V-Zone Flooding
Prior to the recent FEMA mapping release, the only V-Zones in New Jersey were along the Atlantic coastline and in very large bays (Raritan and Delaware). The new mapping changes everything. Now the entire shorelines of New York Harbor, Barnegat Bay, Manahawkin Bay, etc. are mapped as V-Zones.

To the single family homeowner, this change means that reconstruction requires conformance with V-Zone construction standards. If you’ve ever been to the outer banks of North Carolina, you’ve seen what this construction standard looks like. For residential/commercial developers, the implications are more substantial. For instance, in New Jersey, residential development is outright prohibited in a V-Zone. Likewise, commercial development is discouraged.

Rest assured, there are opportunities to mitigate the V-Zone designation if you are the owner of a piece of land that is substantially affected. FEMA has an established a protocol for challenging or modifying their flood designations. The least costly alternative (but least likely to succeed) is to challenge FEMA’s science. The “granularity” of FEMA’s analysis doesn’t consider individual properties. Therefore, there may be something unique about your particular property (i.e. the presence of a seawall, etc.) that would cause it to be unaffected by waves.

 In the absence of scientific justification, the only way to remove your property from the V-Zone is to make a physical improvement such as a seawall, revetment, or other coastal structure. Faced with the NJ ban on residential development in V-zones, BSG has undertaken V-Zone modification applications for properties in Perth Amboy, Atlantic City, South Amboy, and Highlands. To our knowledge, we are the only consultant to successfully remove a V-Zone designation in New Jersey within the last decade.

As always, I’m here to assist. If you have a question or need some advice, drop me a line at Thanks.

- Andy

Andy Raichle, PE, serves as Senior Vice President within the Land & Marine Engineering Division and is a civil and marine engineer with nationwide experience in a broad range of waterfront development and maritime projects. His project experience includes planning and design of coastal and port structures, sub-aqueous utility construction, navigational dredging, contaminated sediment remediation, and shore protection projects. He is well versed in the technical, political, and regulatory specialties that are unique to the process of waterfront development and remediation, and has applied these skills throughout the U.S. and the Caribbean.