Property owners in unincorporated Beaufort County deemed to be at the greatest risk for flooding will get a break of as much as 20 percent on flood insurance, largely because of recent steps by county staff to limit damage from a deluge.
The county earned a Class 6 rating from the Federal Emergency Management Administration's National Flood Insurance Program, county officials said. Previously, the county was rated a Class 7 on a 10-point scale, in which "1" is considered best.
"This is a good thing," said FEMA spokeswoman Mary Olsen. "Because of those actions, people living in a high-risk flood area ... are getting a 20 percent discount. That's a great savings."
About 22,500 active flood insurance policies have been written for unincorporated Beaufort County. Annual premiums on these policies total more than $12 million, and savings from these discounts are expected to reach $1.9 million a year.
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Property owners in places designated "special flood hazard areas" -- where flood insurance is mandatory -- will save between $98 and $171 a year, according to FEMA estimates. The savings were applied automatically for policies issued or renewed after May 1.
But about 11,000 property owners who carry "preferred risk policies" won't see any savings. Those policies, which aren't required, already are issued at a "very much reduced" rate, Olsen said.
The rating change affects only unincorporated areas. Municipalities within the county have their own ratings. For instance, Hilton Head Island has a Class 5 rating.
Hakim Bayyoud, with county Building Inspection & Code Enforcement, spent about 18 months working to improve the rating, which is based on criteria that includes drainage and storm water management, flood data collection and public outreach.
The strength of local regulations also was a factor.
"It means we are enforcing FEMA regulations and building regulations ... to the highest standards," he said.
Bayyoud said he hopes one day to match Charleston County, which has a Class 4 rating.
Most flood insurance comes from the National Flood Insurance Program, which is overseen and underwritten by FEMA. Standard homeowners or renters insurance does not cover flooding.
Congress created the program in 1968 to help people buy insurance that was hard to find and often expensive on the open market.
The program covers as much as $250,000 for buildings and property and as much as $100,000 in personal property for residential coverage, according to FEMA. Policies pay as much as $500,000 for business structures or other non-residential buildings and as much as an additional $500,000 for equipment or inventory.
Several local insurance agents said Wednesday that they couldn't comment because they weren't yet familiar with the premium discounts brought on by the county's higher rating.
Olsen said residents' questions about the discount should be directed to their individual insurance agents or underwriters.