Blue Acres to the Rescue
By Barbara A. Preston l November 1, 2021
Saeheum “Sam” Song of Opossum Road lives next to the tranquil, bubbling Beden Brook in Montgomery Township. In four short hours, the small stream rose to catastrophic levels on September 1. He lost his home, car, furniture, family photographs, and just about every material thing he owns. He was lucky to escape the house with his life. He, his wife, and son floated on a queen-size mattress for hours.
“We floated all the way up to the ceiling,” he recalls. “I was hoping we wouldn’t run out of air or be electrocuted.” The bedside lamp light bulb was well underwater, and continued to shine, shedding light on their unusual predicament in the late evening hours.
Song, who is a scientist, knows better than most to never step into a flooded basement or other room if water may be in contact with electrical outlets, appliances, or cords. The water could be energized, and could shock or electrocute a person. Then, he smelled gas. Smelling gas during a flood is not good. Several homes and a banquet hall exploded in nearby Manville, and gas-fed fires burned on because floodwaters made them unreachable.
Hurricane Ida’s flash flood on September 1 was not the first time his home flooded. “This home never should have been built here,” he told The Montgomery News. “I want to make sure no family ever lives here again.”
Song is one of a few Montgomery Township residents who has applied for New Jersey Blue Acres relief. His home is about 50 feet from Beden Brook, a tributary of the Millstone River. With a heavy rain, his brookside home becomes an island in the brook, he said. He is not exaggerating. Beden Brook runs more than 10 miles from its headwaters in the Sourland Mountains, through Hopewell and Montgomery township to its confluence with the Millstone River north of Rocky Hill, according to the The Watershed Institute based in Hopewell.
It is one of several waterways that flooded heavily during Hurricane Ida. Others included: Rock Brook, Cruser Brook, Pike Run, Van Horn Brook, Roaring Brook, and the Millstone River.
Song found temporary housing in East Windsor while he considers his option. “I have not yet decided where to settle down,” he says. “I do not want to move back” to the Opossum Road house, he said with a stern expression. He may get some insurance money, but he says “flood insurance is tricky.”
When his basement flooded in 2008, he says he called his insurance company to get money for repairs. However, the insurance company called him back and said, “you should be in the AE flood zone.” Some homes are at a higher risk of flooding than others. Properties that are closer to water are more likely to suffer damage during a storm. To quantify this risk, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) categorizes properties that have a higher risk of flooding into one of several flood zones. Homeowners in a high-risk flood zone are labeled AE, and “must” purchase expensive flood insurance in order to get a federally backed mortgage. There are many different flood zone ratings, all explained on the FEMA website at www. msc.fema.gov/portal/search.
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Rebuilding on a floodplain
“If they allow me to rebuild the house, then they are putting another person in danger,” Song said. “If I rebuild, I feel I could actually be killing the other person who would buy the house. It could happen when the next rain storm comes. I don’t want that to happen.”
Some homeowners accept flooding as a way-of-life
Montgomery Township Administrator Donato Nieman noted in his monthly Montgomery News column that several homeowners whose homes have repeatedly flooded over the years expressed their desire to enter into the Blue Acres program, which involves using public money to buy out and preserve properties that are repeatedly flooded. “We prepared maps using the township’s GIS database to identify all Montgomery properties in flood zones or stream corridors,” he said. “The data will be used to assist in getting the state and federal governments to make decisions about the Blue Acres program,” he said.
When The Montgomery News asked for a link to the map, Nieman said he would not release the map publicly because “some property owners don’t want to be identified as living in a flood zone.” Maybe some homeowners accept flooding as a way of life, or maybe they are in denial.
Understanding the impact of global warming
“People have to understand what global warming is,” Song said. “It’s not just the temperature going up 10 degrees. It is the weather changing so rapidly in a in a way that people cannot adapt,” he says.
Monty homes in floodplains
Montgomery police director James Gill said 23 homes received major and significant damage. The Montgomery Building Department was out inspecting the homes, The Montgomery Office of Emergency Management (OEM) reported that it could take months or even years to either rebuild or recover insurance or FEMA money. Local residents who wish to apply for Blue Acres should: Document that their homes have been damaged by, or may be prone to incurring damage caused by, storms or storm-related flooding, or that may buffer or protect other lands from such damage.
The NJ Department of Environmental Protection lists the following phone number for more information: 609.940.4140. Or, visit the website at: nj.gov/dep/greenacres/blue_flood_ac.html.