In the wake of Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy, legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Connie Wagner and Tim Eustace to help protect the public from flooding and facilitate smart development was approved by an Assembly panel on Thursday.
The legislation (A-3262) would require the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to quickly evaluate any newly released FEMA floodway delineations in order to allow permit applicants to apply for a permit using the federal floodway delineation when it is at least as protective as the DEP's delineation.
"Over the years, many flood maps have become outdated due to urban growth, changes in river flows and coastlines, and even flood mitigation efforts," said Wagner.
"A home or business that may have once been located in a flood zone might not now, and vice versa," she said. "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.
"Accurate and up-to-date delineations of floodways and flood hazard areas are essential to inform state and local officials and property owners of changing flood risks," said Eustace.
"Bergen and Passaic counties are no strangers to the hazards of flooding," he added. "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."
The bill would amend the state "Flood Hazard Area Control Act" to direct DEP to update its delineations of flood hazard areas as frequently as necessary and at a minimum of at least once every 15 years, as well as whenever FEMA adopts a new floodway delineation.
Under the DEP's current rules and regulations, if there is a DEP delineation of a particular flood hazard area and floodway, 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 allowed to apply for a permit, or any other type of approval or authorization, for a site based upon a floodway delineation, if the federal floodway delineation is more recent than the DEP's delineation for the same watercourse, and the DEP determines that the federal floodway 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 approved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee and now awaits approval by the full Assembly.