On June 30, 2016, the North Carolina Flood Risk Information System released the first version of new preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Maps (or FIRMs) for Dare County.
The FIRMs are updated every 10 years or so, and the last update for the county was in 2006.
Traditionally, the process to convert to new FIRMs takes roughly 18-24 months, as a series of procedures must be completed before the new maps can be adopted. This includes a 90-day public comment and appeal period, a subsequent review by FEMA to make changes to the maps as needed, and – eventually – a letter of final determination that cements the maps, and gives Dare County an effective date of implementation approximately six months after the letter is issued.
It should be noted that many property owners throughout Dare County have been anticipating the implementation of the new flood maps, and for good reason.
When initially introduced to the Dare County Board of Commissioners at a meeting in June of 2016, Steve Garrett of the Flood Plain Mapping Program and Dare County Planning Director Donna Creef both confirmed that many homeowners would benefit from the updated FIRMs.
“The good news is that a lot of properties are coming out of the flood zones,” said Creef at the 2016 meeting.
Garrett reported at the time that unincorporated Dare County, which includes Hatteras Island, had 1,800 structures in the high-risk VE category, and that number would be reduced to only 124. The county had almost 13,000 structures in the AE zone, and that would come down to about 8,500. The others would move, perhaps into the X zone.
Two new zones are also included in the new maps — AH, which applies to the area between the highways that floods in Kitty Hawk, and AO, which applies to some areas that are subject to shallow flooding, and which includes roughly 893 structures countywide.
(If you haven’t seen if and how your property is affected, you can still check it out via the thoroughly interactive website found here: https://fris.nc.gov/fris/.)
So the ball to adopt the new maps has been rolling for some time, but the process is still ongoing roughly 2.5 years after the maps were introduced. So what’s the hold up, and what’s being done? Here’s a closer look at where we are, and the steps the county is taking to move us forward.
Where we are in the process
Donna Creef gave an update on the status of the new flood maps at the most recent Dare County Board of Commissioners (BOC) meeting on January 7, 2019.
“We’ve been creeping forward with the progress on those maps,” she said. “It’s a process that’s set by the federal government, and we really don’t have any bearing on how quickly or how slowly it moves.”
After the maps were released in the summer of 2016, an appeal period went into effect which ended in November 2017, and which drew in five appeals made by county property owners. From there, the appeals were reviewed by the state and FEMA, and were resolved to the benefit of the property owners, with those changes being made in the maps.
Once the appeals phase was complete, and the maps were altered to reflect those individual revisions, a comment period went into effect which ended on December 30, 2018.
So, basically, now the county is ready for the final step – the letter of final determination – but the problem is that when this will be issued is not set in stone.
“So now, we are in nowhere man’s land,” said Creef at the BOC meeting. “I don’t know how long this is going to drag out before we get a final determination, and that letter of final determination is what we are looking for.
What happens when we get that [letter] is the state and FEMA say ‘OK, Dare County, your maps are finalized, you have six months until the maps become effective.’”
“What we’ve been advised by the state staff is that there are several other counties [in N.C.] that have maps, and they are hoping to get those letters of final determination in April of this year.”
If, (and it’s a substantial if), Dare County receives the letter of final determination in April, then the new maps can go into effect in October or November of 2019.
However, this is not a guarantee, and the state has noted that while FEMA will be issuing letters for several North Carolina counties in April, it may not be able to handle the workload if Dare County, (a noticeably large county when it comes to flood maps), is included in this list.
Compounding this issue is the ongoing government shutdown, which may affect the ability of FEMA to issue the letters in a timely manner.
“I don’t know what impact the federal shutdown will have, but it’s imperative that we try to make sure that we don’t get bumped from that [list] – that we’re included in that letter of final determination,” said Creef at the meeting.
What’s being done to move forward
Because it’s expected that several N.C. counties will be issued letters of determination in April, and because all parties involved want to ensure that Dare County is included, a resolution was passed at the January 7 BOC meeting to take action.
Per the resolution, letters will be signed and sent by BOC Chairman Bob Woodard to congressional representatives, to urge the representatives to assist with getting the word out to FEMA that Dare County should be included in the final determination.
“It doesn’t hurt to try,” said Creef at the meeting, “and at least we can say we’re doing something.”
On a county level, Creef and the planning team have been hard at work ensuring that the county is ready once the letter of final determination rolls in.
“As part of the map update, the Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance for Dare County will also need to be updated,” reported Creef in an update addressed to the BOC. “I have been working with the local planners from the towns in reviewing the model ordinance provided by the State. Revisions specific to Dare County and its towns have been made to the model ordinance and I have submitted the draft Dare ordinance to the State for comments.
“The planners group has also drafted language for local elevation standards that would apply to Shaded X and X zones once the revised maps become effective.”
The planner group has also invited the homebuilders to their upcoming February meeting to go over the details of the local elevation standards. A presentation on the local elevation standards will then be placed on the Board’s agenda following this joint meeting of the planners and homebuilders.
Essentially, once the letter of final determination has been received, the county is efficiently tackling what’s required on their end to meet the six-month implementation.
But only time will tell if the government shutdown, the FEMA workload, or other factors delay the hopeful April issue of the letter, and there’s still a solid three months before we’ll have a concrete answer on when the flood maps may be implemented.