Jan. 31--MIDDLETOWN -- Gary Ledgerwood remembers when the floods subsided in the neighborhood where he grew up.
There had been standing water in his North Middletown yard in the first few years after his family moved there in 1961, but after neighbors created a dune in the mid-1960s, flooding subsided.
Between the dune and other mitigation systems, this bay side section of the township has remained relatively dry, even during superstorm Sandy.
But the residents of North Middletown are depending on a recently authorized study by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to prove the East Keansburg Levee system can prevent devastating flooding. Otherwise, they could face the same exorbitant hikes in flood insurance premiums, which could increase several thousand dollars a year, as people in municipalities left underwater by Sandy.
"It's like another mortgage payment," said Ledgerwood, 58. "We're done."
A congressional push, fueled by concerned North Middletown residents, helped encourage the study.
The Flood Insurance Task Force -- a grassroots group with a membership of more than 100 residents and a core working group including engineers, surveyors, legislative and community liaisons -- brought their concerns to Rep. Chris Smith, R-NJ, and Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-NJ, who joined the residents, local officials and FEMA representatives in meetings to arrange for a second look.
"We hope this new study will enable FEMA to determine the effectiveness of the East Keansburg Levee system and provide them with the most comprehensive and up-to-date information as they conclude analysis of the region's flood maps," Smith said in an announcement about the study.
After Hurricane Katrina, levees such as the East Keansburg system, were "de-certified" when FEMA determined they could no longer be seen as adequate protection from the 1 percent annual chance flood, explained Jeff Sagnip, Smith's spokesman.
But more recently the federal agency has recognized while levee systems do not meet regulatory accreditation requirements, they can still reduce flood risk, Sagnip said. This study, set to begin soon, will help determine where the East Keansburg stands, he said.
FEMA did not respond for requests for comment Friday and it is unclear how much the study will cost.
Leslie Hare, a spokeswoman for the task force, said the flood maps for their area created by FEMA were not taking the area's flood mitigation systems into consideration though they proved viable against "the storm of the century."
The task force was thrilled to learn FEMA would not only give the levee system another review, but it would also postpone changes to homeowner's risk rates until after the study is complete, said Hare, a 10-year resident.
"I think they want to recognize a working system," she said.
Kristi Funderburk: 732-557-5748; [email protected]
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