- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The Charles County commissioners voted to send to public hearing proposed changes to the county’s flood plain management ordinance that will require the lowest floor of new buildings in hazard zones to be 2 feet above predicted flood levels versus the current requirement of 1 foot.
Changes to the ordinance, recommended by the Maryland Department of the Environment, also include increasing the level electrical panels must be above base flood elevation from 2 to 3 feet.
The four commissioners present for their weekly meeting Tuesday voted to send the updated ordinance to a July 10 public hearing. Commissioners’ Vice President Reuben B. Collins II (D) was not present.
Local jurisdictions are required to enforce flood plain management ordinances in order to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program, which allows homeowners to acquire flood insurance at discounted rates.
Traditional homeowners insurance policies rarely cover damage from flooding. Many mortgage lenders require flood insurance for homes within the flood plain, and private flood insurance is prohibitively expensive for most homebuyers.
Established in 1968, the NFIP provides affordable coverage to more than 5 million home and business owners in communities that have adopted flood plain management plans.
The program fell into heavy debt after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and last year, Congress passed reform legislation that will raise rates for some policyholders to reflect their actual flood risk.
Flood Insurance Rate Maps created by the Federal Emergency Management Agency were first adopted in Charles County in 1985 and updated this year, said Frank Ward, chief of codes, permits and inspections.
“I think it’s good that we’re going through this process now because of the technology that’s available and that we’ve had storm events that necessitate [FEMA] to look at having our maps upped,” Ward said. “The southeastern portion of the country has gotten their maps updated a little bit sooner than we have, but I always think it’s good when we go through this process of updating the maps, so hopefully once these maps are set, we won’t have to go through this process again for quite a few years.”
While the old maps were on paper, the updated maps are digital and will be viewable online once they go into effect Sept. 4, but state residents can go to www.mdfloodmaps.com and use the “Flood Risk Application” to look up their property and see whether it lies within the preliminary flood plain.
The ordinance must take effect by Sept. 4, the same date as the new maps, in order to guarantee the county’s continued participation in the NFIP, Ward said.
He noted that the new maps included “no significant changes” and only “minor modifications to the lines” of the county’s flood plain, but even so, 500 properties will be added to the flood zone and 402 will be subtracted.
“Probably it could have just been the topographic information that was available in 1985 was inaccurate,” Ward said of the changes.
The county sent letters to the affected property owners in July and invited them to a pair of public outreach meetings in August, he added.
Analysis of the updated maps took into account flooding data recorded from Hurricane Isabel in 2003 and Hurricane Ernesto in 2006, both of which resulted in local storm surges, Ward said.
“Flood insurance saved us a fortune after Isabel,” Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) noted during a break between agenda items.
Ward said that just because a portion of 500 properties will be added to the flood plain doesn’t mean that 500 homes or structures will be included.
“My experience has been a lot of times agents will require a property to be insured if the property is in the flood zone, not necessarily if the structure is in the flood zone,” Ward said.