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Insurance: Improved county rating will cut cost of flood premiums

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

An improved rating from a federal flood insurance program will save property owners in Georgetown County a $380,000 total discount on their premiums. The county moved from Class 8 to Class 7 in its latest review from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Community Rating System, earning a 15 percent premium discount.

There are over 7,700 federal flood insurance policies in effect in the county outside its three municipalities. The average premium is $985. The new discount, which takes effect in May, will save a total of $1.14 million in premiums.

The discounts are based on the steps communities take to reduce the risk of property damage from floods. The improved rating for the county follows a decision to require new construction in flood zones to be raised an additional foot above what is required by the federal regulations. “We think that cost of going up is so minimal that you’ll more than cover your cost,” said Boyd Johnson, the county’s director of Planning and Zoning.

The CRS assigns points for local efforts to inform the public about hazards, mapping and regulations, flood damage reduction and preparedness. Of the 43 communities in the state that participate, only a third have ratings better than Class 7. The town of Pawleys Island is at Class 6. Charleston County is Class 4, but most of its beachfront areas are in municipalities. “It’s harder for counties. It’s a lot easier for small places,” Johnson said.

Pawleys Island has 439 federal flood insurance policies in effect. The average premium is almost $3,000.

For Georgetown County, it’s harder still because it includes the unincorporated beachfront communities as well as property along five rivers. Record rainfall in October 2015 caused severe flooding along the Black River in the western part of the county. Those were areas where the FEMA regulations didn’t specify a building elevation. That is due to change under new Flood Insurance Rate Maps released last year. The new maps were due to take effect early in 2017, but Johnson said the agency is doing additional study along the Black River. While the new maps didn’t account for the 2015 flooding, Johnson said, “it’s amazing how they followed that line” on the proposed maps.

“The next step is: What do we do to get a 6,” Johnson said. The county could get additional points under the rating system for requiring structures to be elevated another 2 feet above what FEMA and the county already require. That’s what Pawleys Island did to increase its discount. The town is now looking at ways to reach Class 5.

Hurricane Matthew last month also showed a path to reducing the flood damage. “There are a lot of people who had living space” under their elevated homes, Johnson said. That isn’t allowed. Those people were denied permits to rebuild.

FEMA rules only allow 299 square feet of uninhabitable ground floor space.

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