SOUTHEASTERN, N.C.—The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has released new floodplain maps, and soon, buildings will be rezoned to new designations for the first time in 12 years.
This will result in policy changes for thousands of residents in the coastal and riparian floodplain.
As the National Flood Insurance Program gets continually re-authorized and extended, FEMA has given municipalities until August 28 to comply with updated Flood Insurance Rate Map changes and regulations.
The last time Flood Insurance Rate Maps were updated in Brunswick and New Hanover Counties was in 2006.
Flood-prone communities have been subsidized by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) since the 1960s. Backed by FEMA, the program has gradually scaled back in the wake of hurricanes that drained federal resources. This process is slowly allowing homeowners to feel the actual cost of flood insurance.
On March 23 Congress re-authorized the NFIP through July 31. The program was set to expire Jan. 19 and Sept. 30, 2017, before being extended at the last minute.
According to a FEMA release on the most recent re-authorization, the program is in need of simplification and a “sounder financial framework.
“The level of damage from the 2017 hurricanes makes it abundantly clear that FEMA needs a holistic plan to ready the Nation for managing the cost of catastrophic flooding under the NFIP,” the release states.
In analyzing the updated flood zones, New Hanover County’s planning manager Ken Vafier extracted some of FEMA’s trends.
Vafier noted in general, maps are becoming less restrictive. Still, properties in northeastern New Hanover County are now being placed in a flood zone, though they were not on earlier maps.
The largest zoning categorizations are VE and AE.
- The VE Zone covers coastal areas with high hazard flooding subject to wave action.
- The AE Zone is also known as the 100-year floodplain. Slightly less risky than VE, the AE zone has a one percent probability of flooding every year and is based on a detailed hydraulic analysis.
Not including city limits, approximately 698 additional structures will be designated in the AE Zone in New Hanover County. Approximately 300 buildings are no longer in the VE Zone, the designation associated with wave action.
The option to petition FEMA’s new zoning designations in New Hanover County passed in 2016. At the time, only six petitions were submitted for review.
In Brunswick County, inclusive of its various municipalities, an additional 3,361 buildings are included in FEMA’s updated AE zoning designation. Like New Hanover County, Brunswick County will also see a decrease in VE Zoning designations. A total of 5,030 buildings will no longer be designated in the high velocity, wave action zone in Brunswick County with FEMA’s updated recommendations.
Brunswick County will hold a public hearing about FEMA’s changes on July 10. According to Jessica Loeper, spokesperson for New Hanover County, the new maps will be voted on by the Board of Commissioners on July 9.
New Hanover County’s Board of Commissioners will vote to adopt FEMA’s proposed changes to its Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance at a hearing on July 9 and Brunswick County will adopt changes to theirs on the federal deadline, Aug. 28.
Some changes FEMA has recommended and municipalities may choose to adopt include but are not limited to the following in VE Zones:
- The lowest floor of a building in a VE Zone, or wave action zone, cannot be temperature-controlled or air-conditioned.
- Concrete pads, patios, decks, parking pads, etc., must be structurally independent of the primary structure foundation system.
- Concrete pads cannot exceed four inches
- Fill material must be similar and consistent with an area’s natural soils
If municipalities fail to adopt FEMA’s suggested changes, they will lose their eligibility to participate in the NFIP.
Meanwhile, in Pender County, updated changes are lagging at the state level. According to Pender County’s Planning Director Kyle Breuer, new maps and ordinance updates are being put on hold by North Carolina’s Department of Public Safety.
“We’re kind of at a stall pattern,” Breuer said. “We had gone through basically the whole outreach process and were prepared to move forward, however, for whatever reason, we have not been reactivated through the state.”
After holding public meetings in 2015, revised maps were sent to DPS’s Emergency Management and later, to FEMA for review.
“The State Emergency Management has advised Pender County that it is highly unlikely that the new maps will be adopted this year and that we should expect the new maps in 2019,” Breuer wrote in an email.
To look up your property according to FEMA’s new floodplain designations, visit FRIS’s interactive online map. On the righthand side of the map, click on “effective” and select “preliminary.” The “preliminary” results represent FEMA’s new floodplain designations.
Update: This article has been updated to include when New Hanover County will vote to adopt FEMA recommended ordinance changes.
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