Mar. 11—Port Royal is updating its 35-year-old flood maps to comply with federal policy, and the changes will mean fewer residents will be required to buy flood insurance for their home.
The Port Royal Town Council unanimously approved changes Wednesday to its flood maps and building requirements to make sure they conform to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's recent update of its maps and South Carolina Department of Natural Resources' model ordinances. The maps will go into effect March 23.
According to the new maps, 1,840 properties in the town no longer will be required to have flood insurance, as they won't be considered part of "special flood hazard areas" — high-risk tracts where homes with federally backed mortgages must be insured against flooding. Additionally, new construction in these high-risk areas will be subject to several new town rules designed to safeguard buildings from flood damage.
"Of course it's always prudent ... that flood insurance in the Lowcountry is a good idea," town planner Linda Bridges told The Island Packet.
The last time Port Royal's maps were updated was 1986, Bridges said at a public hearing March 3.
"Things have changed since then," she said.
In unincorporated Beaufort County, where the maps were updated in January, the number of homes located within special flood zones dropped from about 26,000 to just under 24,000, interim Assistant County Administrator Chuck Atkinson said.
Port Royal and other municipalities' updated maps can be viewed on Beaufort County's website.
Flooding — a financial and environmental crisis
The updates come amid growing concerns nationwide about flooding as a manifestation of climate change. The First Street Foundation, a nonprofit research group that develops flood risk models, released new research last month. The foundation predicts the cost of flooding will continue to grow around the state and country as flood events become more common and put more properties at risk in a changing climate.
The study estimates that by 2051, the number of Beaufort County homes at-risk of flooding will reach 81,990 — a 35% increase from 60,680 homes at-risk this year. Accordingly, the study notes, the annual financial loss for these homes is expected to rise 34% over the next 30 years — from $857.6 million to $1.1 billion.
Flood insurance can help offset losses, but the increasing likelihood of flooding may cause insurance rates to skyrocket.
The study expects the number of homes at-risk of flooding in Port Royal to reach 3,030 by 2051, a 39.1% increase from the 2,179 homes at-risk this year. The annual financial loss these homes might see is expected to rise 52% over the next 30 years, the study notes — from $9.4 million this year to $14.3 million in 2051.
But Port Royal Town Manager Van Willis said the flood risk for the town is not as severe as one might expect for a community bordered by rivers.
"When we went through those maps, we're not as exposed as some other parts of Beaufort County, surprisingly," he said.
Nationwide, the study states, nearly 4.3 million homes have a substantial flood risk that would result in financial loss. If all those homes were insured against flood risks through the National Flood Insurance Program, the rates would need to increase 4.5 times to cover the risk. The NFIP has been hemorrhaging money since its inception, with losses amounting to $36 billion so far.
According to the study, the total expected annual financial loss for properties at-risk around the country is $20 billion this year. But by 2051, that number is expected to grow to almost $32.2 billion a year — a 61% increase, the study shows.
New requirements for special flood hazard areas in Port Royal
With the new maps come new rules for construction and utilities that aim to protect against the most extreme flooding in regulated areas. Here are the highlights, but the full list of rules can be found in Port Royal's March 10 meeting agenda.
Electrical equipment and utilities must be located up to the base flood elevation of 13 feet to prevent water from accumulating during flooding.
New construction (both residential and commercial) must have the lowest floor elevated to the design flood elevation of 13 feet or the base flood elevation plus one foot of freeboard — the elevation of a building's lowest floor above the base flood elevation, measured in feet — whichever is more restrictive. Design flood elevation is the elevation of the highest flood that retrofitting can protect against. Having a sufficient amount of freeboard can help reduce flood loss.
In coastal high hazard areas, or "v-zones," specifically:
According to FEMA, coastal high hazard areas are areas particularly vulnerable to flooding due to wind and wave action.
New construction must be elevated so that the bottom of the lowest beam supporting the building, on the lowest floor, is no lower than the design flood elevation of 13 feet or the base flood elevation plus one foot of freeboard, whichever is more restrictive.
Electrical equipment and utilities must be elevated to the design flood elevation of 13 feet or the base flood elevation plus one foot of freeboard, whichever is more restrictive.
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