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Rising Sea Levels and Coastal Construction

How high is high enough?

Here on Long Beach Island, it's a Post-Sandy reality where the prime directive is to get all new homes and renovations above the new Base Flood Elevations (BFE). Part of the challenge in doing something so sensible is that the BFE has been a moving target. The magic number determined by FEMA as the minimum height required to raise one's home has changed at least three times since Sandy revealed how vulnerable the Jersey Shore is to flooding. The first change was a knee-jerk reaction to the disaster and the result was the labeling of many coastal areas as "V" or "Velocity " Zones. After a few months and lots of political pressure from municipalities struggling to put their towns together while satisfying the stringent V Zone requirements, new flood maps were issued. And then a few months after that, yet more maps were issued with changing heights.

Some of the more responsive towns had the sense to change their zoning regulations to allow for taller buildings, thereby assisting homeowners to meet the rising BFE's. Others sat by and did nothing to help owners adjust to the new BFE's. Some new bay side homes in Long Beach Township being designed over the course of these changes may have gone from a 32' height limit, up to 36' and then back down to 35' in the course of several months.

As clients sought reliable answers to changing flood requirements and building heights from architects, all we could do was give day-to-day information with caveats stating that things could change again tomorrow.

All of this change and confusion is just a symptom of the real problem: No one knows with any certainty where the real flood level should be or what height we should be at to assure no future devastation caused by flooding. The sea levels are definitely rising and we've seen how things are already changing on Long Beach Island. We absolutely prefer to help owners come up with new construction solutions that can meet their budget rather than raise and retrofit an older home. Understanding that finances won't always allow for new construction, it's then best to raise older homes on wood piling foundations so that periodic flood water can move easily up and around the foundation. The least preferable solution is to raise a home "in place" by adding to an existing block foundation. These foundations have strength and in many ways are the most economical, but they will remain prone to "displacement" when met with lateral water pressure. They are also very difficult to deal with aesthetically. I'll be posting examples of these solutions showing the pros and cons of each in the coming weeks.

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