By Jennifer Tuohy, Island Eye News Contributing Editor
They’ve been almost a decade in the making but they’re finally here. The new Federal Emergency Management Agency flood maps go into effect on Jan. 29, 2021, and will mean lower insurance rates for island homeowners, as well as potentially lower building elevation requirements.
“This is going to save a lot of people a lot of money on flood insurance,” Randy Robinson, building official with the Town of Sullivan’s Island, told The Island Eye News.
“Prior to this, half the island was in a V zone [the most hazardous]; now 95% will be in an A zone.”
A handful of properties will actually be out of the flood zone entirely.
“All the old Officers’ Quarters on Ion Avenue are now in an X zone, where flood insurance isn’t even required,” he said.
On Isle of Palms, the new maps similarly place some areas of the island out of the 100-year flood plain and many others into a designation that would establish a base flood elevation requirement of 10 feet above sea level, IOP City Administrator Desirée Fragoso told The Island Eye News.
Homes at high risk of flooding that have a federally regulated mortgage are required to have flood insurance, which is based incrementally on how high your property is above the flood plain. These maps lower that point by as much as 7 feet in places, meaning that if you were 2 feet above the flood plain, you’d now be 9 feet above it.
Produced through a partnership among Charleston County, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and FEMA, flood maps are meant to be updated periodically as better flood hazard and risk data become available. However, Charleston County’s new maps have been delayed almost a decade. While drafts were released in 2016, two appeals on Kiawah Island held them up another four years.
The new maps also affect base flood elevation requirements on new construction, substantially lowering them in some areas. IOP anticipated this change and recognized the new minimum requirements would allow the construction of homes with floors 1 to 2 feet below the flood levels experienced during Hurricane Hugo.
“In 2018 the city proactively enacted a minimum standard that required all new construction to have a finished floor no lower than 14 feet above mean sea level,” said Fragoso, “which is about 1 foot above the elevation of Hurricane Hugo’s floodwaters.”
While your property might be in a different flood zone starting in January, that’s no guarantee your home won’t flood.
“These maps are based on getting a 1% storm; they’re basically what Hugo did to us,” said Robinson. “But if we were to be in the northeast quadrant of a storm like that – like McClellanville was – then your house would still get flooded. It’s safer to go higher. It’s always safer to go higher.”
The Sullivan’s Island Planning Commission will meet Sept. 9 to discuss amending the foundation height regulations of its zoning ordinance.
“We are looking at some changes,” said Robinson. “When you take houses that had to be built 8 feet off the ground that now only have to be 2 feet off, there’s going to need to be some changes.”