The nearly 25-year wait appears to be over — almost.
On June 30, the Federal Emergency Management Agency released to Beaufort County a new set of preliminary flood maps — the first update since the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The bad news, however, is that the maps are not yet posted online for public viewing, and it’s unclear when that will occur.
The maps determine flood insurance rates for property owners with federally backed mortgages in designated flood-prone areas. In Beaufort County, 61 percent of the land area lies in floodplains.
New flood maps, based on improved technology, have been shown to lower some property owners’ flood insurance premiums, some experts say. A December 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.
The July 4 holiday could have played a part in FEMA’s delay in posting the maps online to its Map Service Center, Maria Lamm, coordinator of the state’s Flood Mitigation Program, said when contacted Thursday.
“We expect the maps to posted to the Map Service Center soon,” FEMA spokesman Danon Lucas wrote in an email Thursday, though he was unable to provide a more specific date.
Hakim Bayyoud, Beaufort County’s floodplain manager, said he had a conference call about the new maps with Lamm and other S.C. Department of Natural Resources officials last week. He said he has not yet seen the maps, adding that much of the flood-map approval process still remains.
“It’s going to take 18 months to get it approved,” Bayyoud said. “Minimum, 18 months.”
Only after approval of preliminary maps do any changes in flood insurance policies kick in, he said. With at least an 18-month timeline, property owners shouldn’t expect any changes to their assigned flood zone until 2019.
Open houses will be scheduled soon to answer residents’ questions on filing appeals, flood insurance, building permits and more, Bayyoud said
Jasper County’s flood maps are slightly ahead of Beaufort County’s schedule. County officials received the preliminary maps in April; that initial analysis found few properties moving out of the high-risk flood zone, while some moved into it, said Lisa Wagner, the county’s director of planning and building services.
An open house for Jasper County residents will be held July 13 from 4 to 7 p.m. in the Jasper County Council Chambers at 358 Third Ave. in Ridgeland. Residents can ask questions about what the new maps will mean for their individual properties.