After Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy made landfall near Brigantine Island in October 2012, the City of Brigantine Beach examined its existing planning and capital improvement documents to better prepare for future storms and flooding. The city also informed residents on what was at stake and how to participate in the process to build resilience.
Brigantine Island has about 9,000 full-time residents and a summer seasonal population of about 30,000. Slightly more than half of the 9,222 housing units in the city are seasonal second homes or rentals. The 264 structures declared substantially damaged had to be brought into compliance with current National Flood Insurance Program regulations for new construction. Many damaged structures were older homes built without floodplain management in mind.
The city began by focusing attention on overall flood resilience. A planning grant funded through the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs and Community Development Block Grant enabled the city to commission a May 2014 recovery planning report prepared by Rutala Associates, a planning consulting firm.
The report’s top recommendations included improving zoning and floodplain ordinances; replacing a major city well; elevating the only road on and off the island; and building or improving barriers around the bayside and oceanfront. Additional recommendations included going above and beyond state freeboard requirements; adopting velocity zone (V zone) building standards in the coastal A zone; encouraging green infrastructure to reduce stormwater runoff; adding living shorelines to stabilize shoreline edges; and lowering the city’s federal flood insurance rates through the Community Rating System.
For project funding, the city applied for long-term community recovery grants and for low-cost loans through the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust. The grant applications paid off, and the city ultimately needed loans only for two projects.
Ed Stinson, city engineer and city manager, believed that future storms and flooding might overwhelm any barriers or pump stations installed. Another concern was that residents accustomed to no flooding because of unseen infrastructure would become complacent about future storm risks to property.
Because of these concerns, the city adopted the report’s recommendations and increased freeboard requirements above and beyond what the state requires. Houses where base flood elevation is nine feet are now required to have three feet of freeboard. Houses with base flood elevation of 10 or 11 feet must have two feet of freeboard.
One problem with full implementation is that fewer than half the houses in Brigantine are primary, year-round residences. That means properties that are either investment rental units or second homes are not eligible for existing financial assistance offered through recovery funding or National Flood Insurance Program hazard mitigation funding.
In the initial aftermath of Sandy, community meetings focused on Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance and National Flood Insurance Program requirements. Soon, however, the meetings included long-term recovery and resilience discussions.
BrigStrong, a grassroots nonprofit organization formed after the storm, ultimately became a long-term recovery group that increased attendance and resilience support by community residents and elected officials. At town-wide resilience meetings, residents viewed maps illustrating sea level rise scenarios and storm surge potential so they could understand that Sandy was not the highest flood the town could experience.
About a year after the report, the city took part in the Getting to Resilience process by the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve. It included assessing resilience strengths and weaknesses, identifying local planning needs, and featuring sea level rise maps to illustrate future flooding impacts. For additional information, see Watershed Outreach Coordinators Help Municipalities Conduct Hazard Resilience Planning.
The community’s final Getting to Resilience report recommended conducting a coastal erosion study, incorporating sea level rise in all planning documents, developing a mitigation plan for repetitive flood-loss areas, and creating a coastal hazard disclosure policy for lenders and real estate agents.