In recent months, the Elkin Board of Commissioners opted to rejoin the National Flood Insurance Program, with a state official joining the recent board retreat to explain the program and what areas are affected along the Yadkin River.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s website on the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), the program is designed “to reduce the impact of flooding on private and public structures.”
While the program can’t control the amount of rainfall or upstream activity which impacts flooding altogether, what it does do is provide “affordable insurance to property owners and by encouraging communities to adopt and enforce floodplain management regulations.”
Milton Carpenter, certified floodplain manager and planner for the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, explained to the commissioners, as well as town department heads and members of the town planning board during the retreat, being part of the NFIP allows the town to regulate what is built, or rebuilt or upgraded, within the designated areas affected by the floodplain maps. For Elkin, this means much of the historic downtown area which sits on the north bank of the Yadkin River.
The area which is included in Elkin’s floodplain map is designated in three ways.
The portion covering the river and an area running mostly parallel to the river up to just before Standard Street is highlighted in hatched marking and is where development is discouraged, Carpenter explained.
“Putting obstacles there is going to make a rise in flooding,” he said and will change the floodplain maps.
The area bordering the hatched area is highlighted in blue and covers an area from Standard Street up to the back of the buildings sitting on the south side of Main Street, including the back portion of some of those structures.
This area is in the AE zone, meaning they are in an area susceptible to flooding due to being near a large amount of moving water, such as rivers, creeks and streams, Carpenter explained. “We want to make sure we develop these areas properly,” he said.
The final area highlighted was that in yellow on the outside border of the AE zone, and was a somewhat thin strip of land, which Carpenter designated as the 100-year flood area. “The ordinance for most towns don’t regulate [building] in the yellow,” he said.
A small portion of flooding regulations also follow Big Elkin Creek through town, according to the floodplain map.
“Development in the blue shaded area is an issue,” said Carpenter, whether that be the hatched area or solid blue area. And NFIP allows the town to regulate any manmade change to development in those zones.
When development is being planned, Carpenter said, there needs to be “a no-rise study that says the rise in the flood will be the same [and the development] will not hinder the flow.”
This may mean new development has to have an open bottom level, or the ground must be elevated above the base flood level prior to construction. Carpenter said the base flood elevation (BFE) is how high the 100-year flood is expected to be.
“If the BFE is 10 feet, then the floor of the structure needs to be 10 or higher,” he said.
“The maps are living maps, so they change.”
He explained, “Any time a building is improved or replaced by 50 percent or more, it has to meet compliance with codes. It has to be elevated if it sits below flood level.”
The reason for that compliance is to be sure new money isn’t being spent in an area subject to flooding, Carpenter said.
There are exemptions made for historically-designated buildings in Elkin’s floodplain ordinance, noted George Crater, Elkin’s planning director who has become the town’s certified floodplain manager.
“FEMA doesn’t want us to destroy historic structures by making them elevate them,” Carpenter agreed. “But if you have a historic structure below base [flood] level, then the insurance will be costly.”
Commissioner Cicely McCulloch, who owns The Liberty building downtown, added insurance is available for historic building owners, but it is very expensive and not available through NFIP.
One step which will assist is that commercial buildings can be flood-proofed, but home cannot be, they must be elevated, Carpenter said.
A point system adjusts the insurance costs to property owners for NFIP, with more points given for having multiple certified floodplain managers, flood proofing structures, tearing structures down in a floodplain area and creating green space in their place. Carpenter said if the town gets to 1,000 points, then all citizens can receive a 10-percent discount.
He also encouraged those who own historic structures to get a variance.
Town Manager John Holcomb explained this week the town was accepted into the program Nov. 17, 2015, after many years of not participating.
“It does allow people now who previously couldn’t get flood insurance to have access to it,” he said. “Before you couldn’t get flood insurance because you were in this certain area, but now you can through this program.”
Holcomb explained property owners can go through their insurance carrier if they are interested in having flood insurance.
Anyone who has questions about the program can reach Planning Director George Crater at 336-794-6467.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.