chairman and one co-vice chairman of the 20-member panel that advises
the state Coastal Resources Commission has called for creation of an
ad-hoc group to review and try to solve what they view as potential
conflicts between state rules and the most recent flood insurance rate
maps produced by the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Resources Advisory Council Chairman Rudi Rudolph, head of the Shore
Protection Office in Carteret County, and council co-vice chairman
Spencer Rogers, a coastal engineer with North Carolina Sea Grant and
UNC-Wilmington, pitched the idea during PowerPoint presentations at the
council’s most recent meeting in September in Wilmington. They hope to
pitch the idea to the Coastal Resources Commission when it meets again,
Nov. 30-Dec. 1 at the Hilton Doubletree in Atlantic Beach.
slideshows show contrasts between where some flood elevations would be
set in the new maps, and where some flood levels have actually been in
storms of recent years.
of the problem, according to Rogers, is with the maps themselves, which
are in draft form, but which, based on historical data and incidents,
seem to have overstated flooding risks in some areas and understated
those risks in others. That, he said, sets up some potential conflicts
with setback requirements under the state’s Coastal Area Management
Act, and possibly some conflicts with state building codes, which
govern what kinds of things can be built in flood zones and whether
buildings must be elevated or not in those locations. For example, some
properties that would be moved from the VE (wave zone) could, under the
new zone they are in, be allowed to have buildings that are not
elevated, or could have basements.
“There’s no clear pattern,” Rogers said, and in some cases the decisions seem to defy logic.
But the state has to use the maps once they’re adopted, and the local communities and insurance providers do, too.
“It might be that we need to look at changing some things,” Rudolph said.
examine those kinds of issues, Rudolph and Rogers would like to see the
state get members of the commission and its advisory council, the state
Building Code Council and representatives of the North Carolina
Floodplain Mapping Program together to talk.
Rogers said he thinks that if that can happen, most of the issues can be resolved fairly quickly and easily.
rate maps show the flood risks in various areas of communities in the
United States and designate high-risk areas, or areas with a 1 percent
or higher annual risk of a flood, known as a 100-year-flood, and
moderate- to low-risk areas, or areas with a less-than 1 percent annual
risk of a flood.
On rate maps,
areas of moderate to low risk are zoned B, C or X. Higher-risk areas
are in zones that begin with either the letter A or V. Areas of
undetermined risk are zoned D.
areas, flood insurance is mandatory, though rating options may be
available to create savings. In moderate- to low-risk areas, flood
insurance is recommended, but optional.
Back when the
maps were first released for review in early summer, officials in
several local governments contacted by CRO said they were surprised
by some of the areas removed from the highest-hazard flood zones,
particularly along the oceanfront, and either placed in lower-hazard
zones or not placed in any hazard zone.
just maps, and people need to realize that lines on paper don’t
mean there won’t be floods,” said Donna Creef, director of the
planning department in Dare County.
In Dare County,
the proposed rate maps would remove thousands of properties from
flood zones altogether and move many others to lower-danger zones.
doesn’t necessarily do what maps and lines say she will do,”
In other areas,
such as Emerald Isle in Carteret County, the changes might have
something to do with beach-nourishment efforts and dune stabilization
projects, but also the fact that there simply hadn’t been many
hurricanes in recent years.
In Emerald Isle,
the number of buildings in the VE zone – the highest danger zone
for flooding – will decrease from 1,135 to 441 if the new maps are
approved without change. Some were moved out of the flood hazard
In New Hanover
County, planning director Ken Vafier did an analysis this past summer
and concluded that, “the maps are changing to less restrictive
zones on many properties around the county. Of course, this is
not the case for every single property.”
doesn’t have an oceanfront, but it does have a long shoreline along
what in recent years has come to be called the state’s “inner
banks.” Beaufort County planning director Seth Laughlin
sounded a lot like Creef.
“What we saw
was very much unexpected,” Laughlin said of the new maps.
unincorporated parts of the county, he said, saw likely improvements in
flood insurance rates for 4,000 to 5,000 properties, and relatively few
that would see negative changes.
Creef, Laughlin said he’s grateful that many property owners will
likely see insurance rate cuts and might be able to do different things
with their property, but he wonders about the complacency the maps
years past, FEMA did all the work on the maps for the state, but that
has changed in recent years. After Hurricane Floyd exposed some major
problems with the maps in 1987, Rogers said, efforts to improve the
maps began, but proceeded very slowly, only one county per year. More
than half of the maps at the time were more than 10 years old, and
three-quarters were at least five years old. But most counties didn’t
have the money or staff to do their maps on their own.
a result, in 2000, 22 federal and local community entities joined North
Carolina and FEMA in an agreement to work together to update and
maintain accurate, up-to-date flood hazard data for the state, and
North Carolina created the Flood Plain Mapping Program.
the state took over the program lead, with FEMA’s OK, and many feel
it’s done a much better job, in part because it depends more on local
folks who know the areas better, but also because the technology used
is much better.
models created over the past few years, incorporating storm surge and
other data from more than 20 named storms since the early 1980s, helped
hone the maps.
said he isn’t contending that the state didn’t do a good job once it
took over the lead role; in fact, he said the state improved the
process and generally improved the maps. But that doesn’t mean the maps
are perfect, or that they mesh perfectly with existing state rules and
codes. And consistency is important because the maps are used by local
government officials to make decisions on permits.
said he isn’t too worried about the potential “apathy” or “complacency”
mentioned by folks including Creef and Laughlin, especially along the
oceanfront areas of barrier islands. Structures there might end up
removed from the VE zone under the new maps. He said most who
build there realize that no matter what the maps indicate, there is
risk, and it can be quite significant. But, he added, removing
inconsistencies among the maps, the state’s building code and CAMA
rules is important.
said he believes it would be valuable to get people from all of the
agencies involved together, and hopes he and Rogers will be on the
commission’s agenda in November to make much the same presentation they
made to the advisory council.
don’t want to say the maps are wrong,” he said. “I think it needs to be
a cooperative effort to resolve some of the issues we see in terms of
said there is a precedent for the type of cooperative discussion he and
Rudolph would like to see take place. Back in the 1980s, “we made some
significant improvements in the building code” as a result of such
efforts, he said.
think what Rudi and I are talking about is not something that would
create additional regulations,” he said. “What we’re talking about,
really, is doing a better job of applying the regulations we have now
under the new maps.”
article is provided by Coastal Review Online, an online news service
covering North Carolina's coast. Sam Walker is a reporter for the
Outer Banks Voice. For more news, features, and information about the
coast, go to www.coastalreview.org.)