While other coastal counties in South Carolina have received preliminary flood maps in recent months, Beaufort County property owners anxiously awaiting their maps — the oldest in the state — will wait even longer as delays push the project further behind.
Officials at the S.C. Department of Natural Resources said in December to expect Beaufort County’s flood maps, which are almost 25 years old, sometime in the spring.
“We are looking now at early summer,” Maria Lamm, coordinator of the DNR’s Flood Mitigation Program, said in a recent email, citing delays by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Changes to flood insurance policies don’t take effect until a preliminary map is approved, a process that takes “at least a year,” Lamm said in October. This means, at the earliest, Beaufort County’s new flood maps likely won’t be finalized until midway through 2018.
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Flood maps zone properties based on flood risk, which in turn determines insurance rates. Flood insurance is required of property owners with federally backed mortgages in designated flood-prone areas.
New flood maps, based on improved technology, have been shown to lower some property owners’ flood insurance premiums, some experts say. An earlier analysis of flood insurance premiums by The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette found that in almost half of the S.C. counties for which data was available, average premiums decreased after new maps were approved.
Even though, as revealed by the newspapers in December, Beaufort County leads statewide in the number of flood insurance policies, and despite county officials securing funding for the project more than a decade ago, the timeline for the county’s flood maps continues to be extended.
Lamm said one of FEMA’s delays occurred earlier this spring, though FEMA spokesman Danon Lucas could not immediately confirm it.
“The (earlier) freeze is over now,” Lamm said. “However, FEMA has another freeze in place that will last at least into the first full week of June and is stopping all progress for the entire country.”
The current delay is related to one of FEMA’s mapping websites, which is receiving an update and redesign, to “strengthen the security of FEMA data, systems, and applications for the future,” Lucas wrote in an email.
The administrative changes began May 8 and will run through June 2, he said.
Nothing can be released until (the freeze) is over. S.C. DNR is still aiming for a summer release, but there is no definite date yet.
Hakim Bayyoud, Beaufort County floodplain manager
In nearby Charleston County, updated flood maps show that more properties were removed from the flood-prone zone than were added, The Post and Courier recently reported. The county’s preliminary maps — a technical term for a rough draft shown to the public before approval — show that 14,500 properties were moved out of the high-risk flood zone while about 3,100 were added.
That might not be the case in Jasper County.
Newly released preliminary maps for Jasper County show few properties moving out of the high-risk flood zone, and some moving into it, said Lisa Wagner, the county’s director of planning and building services. She said because she received the new maps in April, her conclusions aren’t final.
“I haven’t finished looking at them,” Wagner said. “For the most part, base flood elevation has gone down two to three feet. In a sense, it’s a good thing.”
Interviewed in September, Lamm projected Beaufort County’s preliminary maps to be released toward the end of that month. In early October, she pushed back the release date to January or February 2017. Two months later, the timeline shifted to spring. The DNR is now aiming for a summer release.
Meanwhile, Beaufort County floodplain manager Hakim Bayyoud continues to rely on maps released in the mid-1980s and early 1990s. The pages are yellowed and curling at the edges.
“Nothing can be released until (the freeze) is over,” Bayyoud said. “S.C. DNR is still aiming for a summer release, but there is no definite date yet.”