City hopes NFIP involvement keeps insurance costs down

Photo By Rick Harris
Citizens owning property in flood hazard areas can buy federal flood insurance or have their properties purchased by a city or county..

By Thomas Wilson
The city of Elizabethton's chief building official says the city's continued participation in a federal flood insurance program should keep flood insurance costs down for citizens who own property in federally designated flood hazard areas.
Elizabethton is one of nearly 20,000 communities across the United States that participates in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) by adopting and enforcing floodplain management ordinances to reduce future flood damage. In exchange for a municipal government's membership, the NFIP makes federally-backed flood insurance available to homeowners, renters, and business owners in that community.
"As long as we stay in the flood insurance program, people get a 10 percent discount with flood insurance," said Elizabethton Chief Building Officer Larry Miller.
Miller said roughly 370 property tracts were located in or near designated flood hazard areas. The city's Department of Building and Codes has sent letters to citizens who own property in a flood plain notifying them of their status and the availability of federal flood insurance. The city is required to notify those property owners by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Standard homeowners insurance policies typically do not cover losses caused by flooding. The average annual premium for the insurance is $250, according to FEMA.
The confluence of the Watauga and Doe rivers in Elizabethton creates a flood plain along Main Street in Elizabethton. The Watauga River including its tributaries to the mouth of Buffalo Creek drains 712 square miles, while the Doe River drains 137 square miles. Areas along Gap Creek Road and the Buffalo Creek section have flood hazard designations, according to Miller. Elizabethtonians both present and past know the wrath of the Watauga all too well. Two massive floods occurring in May 1901 and January 1998 were perhaps the two most devastating for Carter County and Elizabethton in terms of property damage and lost lives.
"Surprisingly, Blackbottom is not in a flood plain," said Miller. "We have a large flood zone down North Main Street, Race Street, and Academy Street is a large flood plain."
Miller said the city purchased three properties located in flood hazard areas during 2002 using FEMA grant money. The properties were purchased on Main Street and another property was purchased this year on Riverside Drive near the Broad Street bridge. The city is currently looking at two or three other properties to be purchased, Miller said.
"We can't buy unless they are willing to sell," he said. "If they desire to sell, we get it."
At its July meeting, Elizabethton City Council awarded a contract to demolish a structure located at 230 N. Riverside Road as part of a federal hazard mitigation grant award made to the city. Buyout projects, while 75 percent funded by FEMA, are administered by the state and local communities.
A property owner who wishes to build a new structure or build on to an existing structure must meet building standards set down by FEMA, according to Miller. When a house is properly elevated, the living area will be above all but the most severe floods such as the 500-year flood.
"The foundation has to be designed to FEMA specifications," said Miller. To build a home on property located in a flood hazard area, a builder must obtain a flood elevation certificate from a surveyor. The structure's lowest floor must be one foot higher than the 100-year flood plain level.
Despite rainfall totals several inches above normal in the Tri-Cities region, Miller said the city had not experienced major flooding problems that menaced the city in 2002.
"The problem we have is when you get three or four inches of rain in an hour," Miller said. "We didn't have that type of rain this year. Most of the flooding we had in the summer before last, the places were not in a flood zone."