Important Info — Floodplain Damage

The following information — from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection — was sent to all municipal officials. It was forwarded to “06880” by Cathy Walsh, chair of the Westport Planning & Zoning Commission, on behalf of the entire P&Z.  She says:

The highlights are the 100-year flood plain, 3-foot substantial damage clause and the $30,000 grant.  The key for homeowners is “document everything.  Photos of high water/high water marks are invaluable. So are photos of pre-existing sea walls.”

The P&Z staff are discussing the options internally as to how to stream line the process for homeowners to rebuild.  I’ve asked them to come up with recommendations as to how best streamline the process for homeowners. We will put this on the agenda for the November 8 P&Z meeting.

The other important issue concerns seawalls.  Larry Bradley is working with the DEEP commissioner to streamline that process also.  We want the public to know what’s going on but at the same time please allow us to do our leg work.

The DEEP memo follow:

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, many structures have been damaged by coastal flooding, high winds, fire from downed electrical wires, or fallen trees.

All Connecticut municipalities participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Under the NFIP, structures located in the mapped 100-year floodplain that have sustained substantial damage must be brought into compliance with your community’s floodplain management regulations or ordinance as if it is new construction when they are repaired or reconstructed, including the requirement that lowest floor be elevated to or above the base flood elevation.

The NFIP defines substantial damage as damage from ANY origin sustained by a structure whereby the cost of restoring the structure to its before-damaged condition would equal or exceed 50 percent of the market value of the structure before the damage occurred. Work on structures that are determined to be substantially damaged is considered to be a substantial improvement, regardless of the actual repair work performed. The definition of market value is included in your local floodplain management zoning regulations or flood ordinance. Usually, market value is defined as the appraised value of the structure, excluding land value.

Before issuing permits for repairs, local permit officials must determine whether damage to a structure located in the 100-year floodplain qualifies as “substantial damage”. Community officials often have difficulty determining whether buildings are substantially damaged. This difficulty is magnified after a disaster where a large number of buildings have been damaged and there is a need to provide timely substantial damage determinations and issuance of permits so that reconstruction can begin.

In coastal areas that experience tidal surge, a general rule of thumb is that if 3 feet or more of flood water has entered the first floor living space (not the basement), the structure has likely hit the substantial damage threshold. The Substantial Damage Estimator Manual listed below contains helpful damage category spreadsheets in Appendix E. While doing field inspections, it may be helpful to do a preliminary assessment using spreadsheets using a “stoplight” screening for each structure (green – not substantially damaged, yellow – borderline, red-substantially damaged). More detailed calculations can be done in the future before the structure is repaired.

There are many Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) publications that can assist local officials with the topic of substantial damage. Below is a list of these resources and link to website.

Substantial Damage Estimator (FEMA P-784 CD) and User’s Manual and Workbook

Answers to Questions About Substantially Damaged Buildings (FEMA 213)

Substantial Improvement/Substantial Damage Desk Reference (FEMA P-758)

Managing Floodplain Development through the NFIP, Unit 8 (IS-9)

When buildings undergo repair following a substantial damage determination, it is an opportunity for the community to reduce future damage to these vulnerable structures through compliance with community floodplain management regulations.

If a local official determines a structure is substantially damaged, Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) coverage is part of most standard flood insurance policies. If eligible, ICC provides for up to $30,000 to help property owners who have been substantially damaged bring the home or business into compliance with community floodplain regulations or ordinances. This can include elevation, demolition or relocation of a residential structure, or flood-proofing a non-residential structure. Claims for ICC benefits are filed separately from your claim for contents or building loss. Below is a link to FEMA’s website with more information in ICC.

6 responses to “Important Info — Floodplain Damage

  1. Dan you are so Awesome! the US needs to take a lesson from Holland and build some Locks (Gaint) at mouth of LI Sound and entry to Port of mitigate these sorts of problems in the future. Nothing can prevent storms but Engineering can reduce the damage— I don’t know what you can do to prevent LBI outer island damage and flooding….but the LI Sound could be a great test case!

  2. The morning after the storm, before anything was touched, I sent to Dan at 06880 a photograph of the depth measure sign on Danbury Avenue and Soundview by the beach. It clearly showed what appeared to be a watermark at a high tide line at the 15 foot mark. Dan published it on Tuesday. It may prove useful for filings.

  3. Dan,

    Thanks for posting this so quickly.

    Cathy Walsh

  4. Let’s see if the ZBA will expedite the process for these renovations, as many of these homes have variances due to being built a long time ago on small lots. You can’t just raise them with the same footprint without ZBA involvement. I would be glad to be wrong about this…

  5. Joyce Barnhart

    I am so grateful that none of this applies to me and I feel so sorry for people who must concern themselves with it. I hope there will be free help available in town to assist people in dealing with the assessments and filings.