August 18, 2015

Complex process delays floodplain maps again


New technology made public in the spring of 2013 showed that many properties in Dare County seemed to have been mistakenly classified as at risk for flood damage. Residents and county officials were hoping for quick action from the federal government, but delays have pushed back the release date of new preliminary floodplain maps at least 18 months.

According to Willo Kelly, government affairs director for the Outer Banks Association of Realtors, the potential savings to Dare County are huge if the preliminary findings are confirmed.

“Eighty percent of Dare County will be coming out of the flood zone or be reclassified,” she said.

The financial implications for the county are significant.

“Every dollar more you pay (for insurance) decreases the value of your property,” Kelly said.

She went on to note that the opposite is also true. “If you don’t have to pay that money to the insurance company, that’s disposable income.”

Using LIDAR technology that calculates distance by targeting the ground with a laser and analyzing the reflected light, FEMA hoped to produce the most accurate floodplain maps possible. Although approved maps have not yet been issued, early indications are that the new technology is far more accurate.

“The new maps are accurate to 18 centimeters (approximately 7 inches),” Kelly said. “The old maps were accurate to 5 feet.”

However, delays have occurred in the process. The state is creating the maps with a grant from FEMA to the North Carolina Flood Mapping Program (NCFMP).

The process is time consuming and complex beginning with the release of a preliminary map, followed by a 90-day public comment period, a review of the public comments, and release of a final map. Typically it takes approximately 18 months from the release of the preliminary map to a final map to be used for insurance purposes.

Preliminary maps for Dare County were originally scheduled to be released in late 2014. The date was then moved back to this month.

That deadline will not be met, and, according to Donna Creef, Dare County planning director, the latest estimate from the state moves the release date back a couple of months.

“That is when the state told us the (preliminary) maps will be ready, in late December or early January 2016,” she said.

Randy Mundt, community development planner for the NCFMP, is hesitant to agree with that timetable.

“I’m not sure the winter is correct,” he said.

The difficulty, according to Mundt, is how intricate the steps to a final map are.

“This is a very complex process,” he said. “There are so many factors. Terrain is one of the factors. Of course, that is one of the most important factors, but there are numerous iterations that must also be submitted.”

The state mapping program must adhere to FEMA guidelines, and the final say on when maps are released is contingent on the federal agency’s say so. “We’re doing this based on their (FEMA) standards. When they say it’s okay to release a map, then we can release it,” Mundt said.

There have been some maps released. New Hanover County received its preliminary maps in June, but to date none of the counties on the Outer Banks has seen new floodplain maps.

“We’re very frustrated,” Kelly said. “The savings to people are in the hundreds, if not thousands,of dollars.”

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