South Bethany flooding Oct 2015

Located between beach and bay, South Bethany is expected to flood during major storm and tidal events, which means higher flood insurance premiums. Here, flooding occurs on the west side of the sand dunes during a storm on Oct. 3, 2015.

As South Bethany looks at the first round of FEMA floodplain updates, town residents are being invited to telephone into a virtual public meeting with FEMA representatives on Tuesday, Oct. 27, from 3 to 4 p.m.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had rescinded the existing floodplain maps in January, thus reverting South Bethany to an earlier map. Now, FEMA will be officially filing two Letters of Map Revision (LOMR), which will cover the whole town.

The Oct. 27 meeting will be specific to the first LOMR, which covers homes located farther east from the shore. (Another public meeting could occur in the future, after the second LOMR is announced for the easternmost homes.) Mapping contractors, FEMA personnel, insurance specialists and DNREC representatives are expected to present their conclusions and methodologies, and then answer questions.

“It’s more just educational, that this is something that’s going to happen, and it gives the opportunity for the town property owners to ask questions about it,” said Randall “Randy” Bartholomew, town council member. “I hope it’s informative and educational.”

Questions must be submitted beforehand to administrator@southbethany.org, by Thursday, Oct. 22, at 4 p.m. (a maximum of two questions per property owner). If time allows, additional questions will be addressed after all submitted questions have been answered.

As always, all attendees are being asked to mute their microphones, unless they are given permission to speak. South Bethany Town Hall will post connection details on Friday, Oct. 23, at https://southbethany.delaware.gov.

Updating the floodplain again

Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) are how the federal government shows the perceived risk of flooding hazards in any given place. The entirety of South Bethany is in the flood zone (meaning it could be underwater during the most severe storms, or a “1-percent chance” flooding event), and that flood-zone location is most apparent during coastal storms. That map data is used by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to calculate the appropriate flood insurance premium rates.

Only the first (western or “riverine”) LOMR has been filed, with the second (eastern or “coastal”) LOMR anticipated at some point in the next several months. The boundary between the two halves is a vertical line through town, about halfway between Route 1 and Ocean Drive. Both revisions will go through the normal regulatory process for approval, with public comments and appeals as necessary.

“I think the vast majority of people will have about a 1-foot increase. What that does to their insurance policies will be unknown,” because each house has so many different nuances, Bartholomew said. “We’ll very much encourage people to talk to their insurance companies” to ask how the proposed changes could impact their rates.

Any appeals must be based on scientific or technical data.

Several years ago, a property owner pursued his own appeal into a lawsuit, which resulted in a U.S. District Court judge deciding that FEMA had “acted arbitrarily and capriciously” — particularly in regard to methodology used on the ocean side. The maps were rescinded to an earlier version, which FEMA is now looking to update, via LOMR.

To keep an eye on things, the Town created a FEMA Ad Hoc Committee, which meets regularly by telephone (public participation is welcome).

“The goal of this committee is to evaluate what that means to the Town and see if there’s strategies or questions we should raise to go back to FEMA — and make any recommendations to town council for action,” said Bartholomew, who chairs the committee. “This committee and members on it will not deal directly with FEMA. All correspondence will go through the town staff or mayor directly.”

So far, an appeal has not been discussed or recommended, either at the committee or council level.

“I think a lot of it is just trying to understand the methodology that FEMA is using to determine the flood map changes. A lot of the biggest changes would be expected on the coastal side, which is still the unknown,” Bartholomew said.

“The methodology dictates the BFE elevation and the zones,” he continued. “And the result would impact what the property owners’ insurance would be.”

South Bethany is currently covered by Flood Insurance Rate Maps 10005C0514K and -0518K, which were issued in March 2015.

Officially, the entire FIRMs will not be reissued, but the LOMR information will be housed online and with South Bethany Town Hall. FEMA will not be sending each individual homeowner a notification.

The deadline for appeals will be around Nov. 17 (90 days after the second public notification, which was published in the Aug. 20 issue of the Delaware State News). The LOMR will become official on Dec. 18 (or later, if necessary to resolve any outstanding appeals).

For more information:

Staff Reporter

Laura Walter is an award-winning reporter on schools, environment, people and history. A graduate of Indian River High School and Washington College, she has rappelled off a building and assisted a magician, and encourages readers to act on local issues.