By JACQUELINE DURETT
SAYREVILLE — The Borough Council is looking to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide relief to residents of Eisenhower Drive.
Councilmen Art Rittenhouse and Stephen Grillo spoke about their recommendations to champion the cause of residents on that street. Residents there were not eligible for a state buyout under the Blue Acres program, like those on nearby Weber Avenue, but are required to raise their homes more than a dozen feet or face steep flood insurance premiums.
Grillo said the issue is that the state did not deem the area eligible for a buyout, but FEMA is telling these residents they are in the most serious category of a flood zone. The situation, which affects about 40 houses, has also had a significant impact on resale value. He said FEMA has painted too broad a brush with its delineation.
The two councilmen recommended Sayreville send a letter to FEMA requesting a reevaluation of the area.
“With FEMA maps potentially coming out within the next few months, I think we need, as a governmental body, to ask FEMA to answer some critical questions, which are, ‘When was the last time you even looked at these houses? The topography has changed, the elevations may have changed.’”
Rittenhouse and Grillo said the borough is also looking at implementing recommendations from a new Rutgers University study of the area. Doing so would provide flood mitigation and perhaps topography changes in the area.
“It would be unfair to punish these property owners for the way their home was in October of 2012 as compared to now in late 2016,” Grillo said. “So, I think that it’s our responsibility to demand that the federal government do a better job of assessing the danger that these homes are in, and so this letter is a way of starting that conversation.”
Councilwoman Mary Novak asked how this letter would be different from the one the council sent in June and accompanied a resolution. That resolution requested that various entities, including FEMA, review their policies regarding homes that were constructed to code when built, but now warrant additional flood insurance protection.
Rittenhouse said that request was a regional one that many municipalities collectively supported, although the intent behind both efforts are similar. However, Grillo and Rittenhouse explained that this was a request to specifically look at this particular street’s designation.
“This is to look at one particular side of the street,” Grillo said. “It’s as micro as you can get.”
The council voted unanimously to approve sending the letter to FEMA. However, Novak said she was not optimistic that the letter would have any impact.
“Hey, I’m all for sending another letter. Unfortunately, I think it’s going to be met with deaf ears,” she said. “I think the best bet now is maybe Blue Acres just buying the houses out so the people are left whole. I never thought I would say that the people on Weber Avenue might have been the lucky ones with this flood because the people that weren’t bought out are really in a tough situation.”
Rittenhouse said an alternative is to petition the state to include impacted residents in the Blue Acres program.
Novak said what the federal government is doing is essentially taking away people’s homes, perhaps not physically, but economically, since they are in a position where they cannot sell or afford their mortgage.
“That’s what the federal government has just done, is taken these people’s homes because they can’t afford it so they’re going to lose it, and they can’t sell it, so it’s just garbage,” she said.
“And what we’re doing is working with them so we can prevent that,” Rittenhouse responded.