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Flood Zone Regulations; NJDCA Snafu

Regulations governing construction in flood zones along New Jersey coastal areas have proven to be difficult to understand for all parties involved, including engineers, architects and code officials.

This is brief version of a long and frustrating story that anyone heading into construction within a flood zone may find of interest. 

In March of 2014, during construction of modular house in Stafford, NJ, the building subcode official made a gross mistake by incorrectly "interpreting" a key provision of the local flood-protection zoning ordinance and then (of course) failing to correct the mistake when presented with basic, incontrovertible facts. Instead, not only this subcode official, but also the construction official, refused to acknowledge the legal regulations. 

This lack honesty, incredibly also backed up by the head of NJDCA, continues to result in a significant cost for the contractor, without any justification in law. 

Local code official did not understand how the base flood elevation (BFE) is set by NJDEP regulations and also did not understand the meaning of "freeboard" relative to the BFE. 

Most egregious was the verbal-only pronouncement that a major, costly change had to made (after modular house had been installed on pile-supported platform) even though the code official had previously released plans for construction and had performed on site inspection of completed construction!

The claimed "violation" was installation of plain-wood framing below the BFE, when in fact, all plain-wood framing had been installed above the BFE. 

Not even written statements (via email messages) by the most senior engineers with NJDEP (which sets regulations governing determination of BFE values) could persuade code officials to correct their errors. 

Most ridiculous was statement by head of DCA, totally ignoring the BFE issue that had been focus of discussions for three weeks, claiming instead that the fine had "really" been issued for some other issue that not any party involved had been talking about at all (and which made no sense). This "arbiter" then ordained that he would not entertain any further discussion and would not explain his decision.  

Recommendations for anyone involved in similar situation..........try to get as much as possible in writing. However, as demonstrated by this case, that still may not be enough to correct major mistakes by code officials. Legal action may be necessary, if available. 

Government officials should not be allowed to cover up gross incompetence that costs citizens time and money. Yet, those parties suffering damage must stand up against such dishonesty and abuse. Fighting back is not always easy of course (especially when large amounts of money is being tied up)......and so it has gone with this case so far.  

However, the key principle of government honesty (and dishonesty) is the essential issue here. There may be more to this story over time; stay tuned.

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