Officials look to appeal FEMA flood zone maps

Published: May 25th 2016

By: Amy Lipman

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – Homeowners, business owners, flood mapping experts and Horry County leaders are concerned about the new Federal Emergency Management Agency’s flood zone maps. Lisa Bourcier, spokesperson for Horry County, said the county is under a 90-day review period for FEMA’s maps. That is scheduled to end July 16, but the county applied for a 30-day extension to have more time to study the maps and the data behind them. The county requested additional data from FEMA and is looking into hiring an outside consultant.

Horry County staff will then have to compile that data to put together a formal appeal of FEMA’s proposed maps. The county has not received a response from FEMA on the extension yet, Bourcier said. Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce President Brad Dean said he supports the county in working to appeal the maps. Dean has been asking state and federal leaders to take the time to look for any flaws in the methodology FEMA used.

“We know that flood insurance costs are going to go up, but at the rate they’re proposing, it just doesn’t pass the common sense test,” he said. “We need them to slow down and make sure the results are correct.”

Dean released the following statement Tuesday:

“The changes made by FEMA defy common sense and need to be redone,” Dean said. “The impact of these new regulations, if not corrected, could be devastating for residents, businesses and the Grand Strand economy in general.”

Bourcier said the county doesn’t plan to dispute the entire map, but the data behind certain sections of it need to be more closely examined. The new FEMA maps raise the base flood elevation from six feet to 13 feet in some Socastee neighborhoods near the Intracoastal Waterway.

“There’s a lot of people who are going to be negatively impacted,” said said Steve Strickland, of The EARTHWORKS Group. “They’re going to lose their house.”

The EARTHWORKS Group provided WMBF News the flood insurance premium estimates for one Horry County resident. The current premium is $417 per year and the updated premium is estimated to cost $7,444 per year.

“It’s going to have a devastating impact on people with fixed incomes that live in this area who aren’t even on waterfront property who may just have a drainage ditch that runs along the back of their property,” said Stephen Williams, also of The EARTHWORKS Group.

The EARTHWORKS Group is advocating on behalf of homeowners and business owners in Horry County who could either see major changes on their bills or become part of a flood zone for the first time under FEMA’s proposed flood maps. Strickland and Williams said October’s flooding was considered a 100-year storm, which is what FEMA’s flood maps cover.

“[People] were coming to us saying we just lived through some of the most prolific flooding that our area has seen and I never even saw the first bit of flood water on my property,” Williams said.

The maps were released a month before the flooding, according to Mary Lamm, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resource’s state coordinator for the flood management program, so that data was not taken into account with these maps. Williams and Strickland understand the data from the October floods couldn’t be included, but they don’t know why the new maps for a 100-year storm would be so significantly different from what Horry County has already experienced.

Lamm said the Great Pee Dee River was studied for the first time, and that river affects the Waccamaw River and the Intracoastal Waterway. She said even though Horry County might have seen a 100-year storm on the Waccamaw River or the Intracoastal Waterway, the Great Pee Dee River did not experience such a weather event. Lamm added the Great Pee Dee River’s effects are what increased the base flood elevation level to 13 feet.

Williams said the flooding had been called a 1,000-year event in some circumstances. He added there is a disconnect in FEMA’s evaluations. Williams and Strickland said they found FEMA didn’t use any USGS gage data from Socastee’s swing bridge, which is why they think the base flood elevation around the Waccamaw River outside of Conway is more consistent with former maps than the base flood elevation around the Intracoastal Waterway in Socastee.

“Their new model uses gauge data from roughly 60, 70 miles upstream,” Strickland said.

They said it seems as if FEMA is combining storm surge flooding with river flooding even though they happen days apart. The two are working to get a copy of the model used in creating the maps.

“We’re having to basically fight Goliath to come up with a solution or to have them go back and check why there is such a big discrepancy,” Strickland said.

Horry County’s website has a link where residents can look to see if they will be impacted by the updated maps. Williams and Strickland encourage people to make their voices heard on this issue.