The most eye-opening moment at Tuesday night's Little Silver town hall meeting came not when one resident said she paid about $85,000 annually for flood insurance, or when another shared with the crowd his frustrations that the amount of money given to him by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for a rental was not commensurate with market values in the area. It came when about a third of the audience of about 225 residents packed into the Markham Place cafetorium raised their hands to show they had been displaced from their homes by Superstorm Sandy.
"You're all in tough spots," said Mayor Robert C. Neff, Jr. at the start of the Dec. 11 meeting that featured borough officials, Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon and representatives from FEMA, National Flood Insurance and Small Business Administration (SBA).
The two-and-a-half-hour-meeting, jam-packed with procedures and acronyms for navigating the bureaucratic maze required to rebuild storm-damaged homes, was very civil and organized to help give residents information directly from the governmental sources, according to Neff.
Steve Asdito, a representative for the National Flood Insurance, urged residents to learn as much as they could about the process and available programs. "If there's one thing you take away from tonight, know that you need to get as well-educated as you can so you can look forward and make the best decisions that you can."
When the resident struggling to find a rental property for his family of four within the FEMA allowance was told by one of the agency's representatives that that number was set by law, Neff said, "It's not always the answer we're looking for, but having an answer is better than not."
The question that seemed to be on most residents' minds was "Who needs to elevate?," followed immediately by "How high?" and most importantly, "Who's going to pay for it?"
Much hinges on the release of FEMA's much-anticipated Advisory Base Flood Elevations (ABFEs) for the state, which were supposed to be released earlier this week. This will give residents whose homes were declared severely damaged by the borough and are required to comply the definitive word on elevation heights.
At Little Silver's meeting, a National Flood Insurance representative told the audience that there's a difference between those who will be required to comply with elevating homes to the borough-recommended 13-feet above sea level, and those that want to raise their homes to avoid future flooding.
Residents whose homes were more than 50 percent damaged by the storm and designated "severely damaged" by the borough, will need to comply with elevating their homes but are eligible to apply for Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) coverage. The FEMA-funded grant helps pay for the cost of complying with state or community floodplain management laws or ordinances from a flood event.
Those who are opting to elevate can apply for a Hazard Mitigation Grant Program that could award up to $30,000 for the project.
SBA representative Gary Colton urged residents with storm-damaged homes to apply for low-interest SBA loans, regardless of whether they had flood insurance or FEMA assistance, as a means for financing rebuilding and home elevation.
Bryan Miller, who handles individual assistance for FEMA, explained to the audience, "FEMA's program is pretty basic."
While a contractor would look at missing shingles from a roof and declare the entire roof needs to be replaced, Miller said FEMA would only pay to replace the missing shingles. "It's not an insurance program. It's not supposed to bring you back to pre-disaster conditions."
The final question of the evening came a little after 10:30 from a woman who said she wanted to make "more of a plea" to the borough to keep residents informed on its Web site of the critical information needed to get back into their homes.
"A mistake could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars," she said, adding, "the stakes are very high."