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.

This week, FEMA temporarily halted its current updates to South Bethany’s floodplain designation. The Federal Emergency Management Agency had just released the proposals and begun the 90-day appeal period a week prior, when South Bethany announced that the Washington, D.C., headquarters had contacted the Town to say that the implementation process would be paused on several Letters of Map Revision (LOMRs).

“This week we received an email from our FEMA representative letting us know they are going to re-start the process of notifying the town-and rescind what they put out there — and we’re going to re-start the clock,” Mayor Tim Saxton announced on Feb. 25 to the town council. “As we understand it, they’re not going to do another technical analysis but they are going to have to restart the process, and it will take them another 9 to 12 months before another LOMR gets through the appeal process and is posted.”

Next week, South Bethany expects an official letter with more details from FEMA’s D.C. headquarters, not just the Region III office that usually oversees Delaware.

Saxton said his impression was that there is a procedural problem in how FEMA notifies affected areas.

“What was pointed out to them is a big issue in FEMA right now. It affected more than just us … which is why I think it’s going to take some time now to get reorganized [with all the towns] who have had a similar problem.”

In January 2020, FEMA had rescinded the town’s Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs), thus reverting to even older maps. Then, rather than issue entirely new maps, they planned to file two Letters of Map Revision (LOMR), which will cover the whole town. The first LOMR (December 2020) covered the western majority of town. The second LOMR (June 2021) covered the easternmost strip of houses, within several hundred feet of the beach.

As of Feb. 26, FEMA had removed both “revision” documents from their mapping website (www.msc.fema.gov).

The maps are used by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to calculate the flood-insurance premium rates.

This new information changes much of what was published in the Coastal Point article “FEMA proposes South Bethany oceanside flood maps” (print edition dated Feb. 26, 2021). More information will be reported as it becomes available.

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.