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FEMA Flood Maps Lead to Potential Disaster, Say NC Coastal Leaders

Communities such as Manteo see flooding even during less significant storm events, such as last month's Nor'easter. (The Nature Conservancy)
Communities such as Manteo see flooding even during less significant storm events, such as last month's Nor'easter. (The Nature Conservancy)
April 2, 2018

NAGS HEAD, N.C. – As the Trump administration looks at plans to overhaul the National Flood Insurance Program, many of North Carolina's coastal communities say the latest Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood maps will have them knee-deep in trouble when the next significant storm hits their shores.

Currently Dare, Currituck and Hyde counties are among those that say the latest maps from the agency don't accurately depict the flooding risk. Nags Head deputy town manager Andy Garman says what they call a miscalculation could lead to developers building dwellings at ground level, or modifying existing structures that are currently built on stilts.

"A lot of times that's done because there's a flood regulation that causes them to elevate the structure,” he says. “Well, if you're taken out of the flood zone, they can go in and enclose the ground floor as living space, and we've documented in previous storms that some of those areas beneath those structures have been flooded one or two feet."

Placing some at-risk areas out of the FEMA high-risk flood area also precludes them from benefiting from the National Flood Insurance Program that offers affordable insurance to property owners. Scientists predict that sea-level rise from climate change could increase flood risk even beyond what has been seen in recent years.

In a statement, FEMA says its maps are "based on the best available data, and adhere to rigorous scientific and engineering standards."

Garman says coastal leaders are concerned about property owners that may build according to current flood maps, only to be precluded from accessing flood insurance – public or private – in the future.

"Those people would in the future have problems getting flood insurance or paying really high rates because they're now below base flood and they don't meet the future standard and they become nonconforming,” says Garman. “You're not only talking about mitigating risk, but you're also talking about protecting property owners from high costs."

As less people qualify for the federal flood-insurance program, the private flood insurance market grew by 51 percent last year. FEMA is lifting a "non-compete" policy that limited the ability of insurers to sell private policies if they also sold insurance on behalf of the government.

Garman says Nags Head and other towns on the coast are considering local codes that would mandate their own building codes to mitigate the risk created by what they say are inaccurate FEMA flood maps.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC