Last Monday, the public along with Town of Franklin officials, met with members of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to discuss the pros and cons of adopting a flood plain ordinance for the town during the regularly scheduled meeting.
In the event of a major storm, FEMA official Roy McClure explained a flood could prove costly for property owners who do not qualify for federal protections from flooding if the town does not adopt such an ordinance.
As part of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), property owners within counties or municipalities which adopt flood plain ordinances compliant with FEMA mapping standards are eligible for flood insurance at federally discounted rates — a federally guaranteed payment which lessens the issuance cost to private home insurers to be able to insure in the flood plain or flood way.
With no flood ordinance currently in place in Franklin, property owners may build with few restrictions and not be required to pay for flood insurance. Outside the town limits but still within Macon County, homeowners must build at least two feet above flood elevation, if they find themselves in such a zone and are also permitted to buy insurance.
Town property owners, wary of the extra cost of the FEMA program, dispute recent flood plain maps released by the federal agency in 2009, which depict several areas in town as being in flood zones. Residents maintained that many of the “flood plain” areas had never even seen a significant flood.
It was with this in mind that many Franklin residents attended last Monday’s meeting, asking Mc- Clure several questions about the maps and the insurance, along with Ken Ashe of the North Carolina Flood Plain Mapping Program.
“If the community does decide to join the flood insurance program, there are certain requirements,” explained McClure. “You have to fill out the application, do a resolution that the city will follow the regulations, and then adopt a flood plain ordinance,” he said, likening flood insurance to that of car insurance. He added that while FEMA does not prohibit development in a flood plain, it does require that owners build to its standards.
Anyone, whether they are in a flood plain or not, could purchase such insurance if such a resolution was passed, McClure noted. If such an ordinance were to pass, he explained that homes already existing would be grandfathered-in and not subject to FEMA building standards unless they were to redevelop entirely or subject to natural destruction.
Residents who seek federally backed mortgages may not apply if they do not have flood insurance, McClure explained. “So if you’re trying to get a VA or FHA loan for your home, flood insurance is going to be required … So you may have to get a conventional loan,” he said.
Due to residences being flooded in the past, McClure said that FEMA has established development standards to protect such investments.
“If the town gets impacted by a presidentially-declared disaster, then disaster assistance may not be leant to homeowners — they may not get money to repair their home but they may get temporary housing assistance,” said McClure. In the event of a flood, homes without flood insurance that have been grandfathered in could even be applicable for federal assistance in elevating the home above the flood plain from FEMA.
After a storm in the early ’60s, Ashe explained that flood maps were drawn up for the town, and flood areas were identified in the Palmer Street, Crawford Branch and Porter Street areas. He said that his department performed some mapping in 2009 and determined the flood zones had changed little since that time, identifying Crawford Branch and other areas facing a potential threat of flooding in the future.
“If you look at Crawford Branch, most of the culverts are too small to handle really large flood events,” said Ashe, mainly of the Porter Street culvert. “That means that it has to come up out of the pipe and the stream and floods out into the flood plain.”
Local surveyor and land owner Lamar Sprinkle commented to Ashe that even before the storm of 1964, when culverts were installed on Crawford Branch, there was no flooding. “How do you account for that?” he asked, critical of the maps. “You would think after 50 years if something was going to happen it would have happened.” He remarked that the maps have already depriciated property values.
“That’s a question we get almost every time we release maps,” Ashe replied. “Most counties and towns have that question.” He explained that the maps are not based on actual or historic storms but potential ones. “It’s a statistical storm… You look at the type of rainfall that you see in the area and what type of storm you can expect to see.”
Mayor Joe Collins asked Ashe if there was a way to get a more accurate flood plain reading.
“When we issued the revision to the map last year, we did try to take a look at a much more extensive way of modeling, where you take into account actual rainfall events, and the rainfall that moves downstream,” said Ashe. “When we looked at that we got concerned because the amount of water that we have moving down the stream in the USGS [United States Geological Survey] model, it said that the flow was much higher.”
Barry Bacon, surveyor of record in Franklin, said that when he surveyed the newly built Franklin Police Department during its construction last year, the flood maps seemed out of touch. “That building was about 3 feet 8 inches below the flood plain,” he said. “The letter of map revision lowered that by three feet, which means your building is still in a flood plain. I ask you to stand in front of that building and try to picture four feet of water... Ask yourself if those maps make sense.”
Bacon added that he has been a certified surveyor in three states and has dealt with FEMA elevation flood certificates for more than 30 years. “I have never seen anything like this.”
Doyle Clark, East Franklin property owner and resident for approximately 50 years, said that flood gates had not been raised during the last flood on Crawford Branch. “Thirty minutes after the gate was raised, the water went completely off of Main Street in Franklin,” he said. “I think this is probably one of the biggest problems we have are these flood gates for East Franklin.”
Ashe said that FEMA would return to Franklin in 2013 to re-examine the flood plains and make revisions to the map and that they were open to public input on how to evaluate the land.