Preparedness

Bay County, Fla., Homeowners in Floodplains Face Stricter Rebuilding Standards After Hurricane Michael

The regulations on rebuilding won't apply to every floodplain homeowner though. Any home reconstruction, rehabilitation, addition or other improvement must meet the regulations only if the work equals or exceeds 50 percent of the building's market value.

by Patrick Mccreless, The News Herald, Panama City, Fla. / December 28, 2018
AP/Lynne Sladky

(TNS) — Bay County homeowners living in floodplains must meet higher code standards and raise their foundations if their hurricane damage repair costs exceed a certain threshold, officials warn.

The county has received calls recently from homeowners in floodplains unaware that they had to meet stricter regulations before they could get building permits to repair damage from Hurricane Michael. County officials say the extra regulations are needed so homeowners can keep access to relatively cheap federal flood insurance.

"It's such a significant issue and there may be many more people out there who are unaware of this," Bob Majka, county manager, said of the regulations. "We thought this would be an opportunity to bring attention to this."

Majka said the county doesn't want homeowners to remain uninformed, which will cause them strife and delays in their repairs later.

"We want to be informative so they can work with their insurance companies and receive the benefits they need," Majka said.

According to U.S. Census statistics, around 104,000 people live in floodplains in the county.

The regulations on rebuilding won't apply to every floodplain homeowner though. Any home reconstruction, rehabilitation, addition or other improvement must meet the regulations only if the work equals or exceeds 50 percent of the building's market value.

Once the cost threshold is reached, the homes must meet the same standards as a new building, which typically means building up to current codes and raising the foundation to or above the base flood elevation.

Majka said the regulations are required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency's National Flood Insurance Program. Since 1981, the county has participated in the program, aimed at making federal flood insurance available to homeowners living in floodplains. Without federal flood insurance, residents would only have access to private flood insurance options, which can be much more expensive.

In a Thursday email to The News Herald, Lenisha Smith, spokeswoman for FEMA, wrote that to date, approximately 2,044 federal flood insurance claims had been filed in the county since the hurricane and more than $63.3 million had been paid to policyholders.

Majka noted that the county has little choice but to enforce the regulation requirements because of the program's importance to the community.

"We're audited annually under the program and they make sure we adhere to the requirements," Majka said. "If we don't adhere, we lose our eligibility, then nobody can purchase flood insurance in the program."

Currently, including all cities, the county has a total of 33,295 federal policy holders under the program, Smith wrote.

Majka said for residents living in cities with questions about whether their homes must meet the program's criteria, they should contact their cities, not the county.

Bo Creel, president of EPCI Code Administration Services, which provides building department services for multiple area cities including Panama City, Lynn Haven, Callaway, Parker and Springfield, said his company had not yet received calls from homeowners confused about the program requirements.

"But those are probably going to come," Creel said.

Creel said that like the unincorporated areas of the county, residents living in floodplains in cities such as Panama City, Callaway and Parker must too adhere to the program regulations if they meet the cost threshold.

"They'll have to bring the entire structure up to code," Creel said.

Creel said his company can help residents make sure if their homes meet all requirements for them to obtain a building permit.

"When they come in to apply for a building permit, we always look at that," he said.

———

©2018 The News Herald (Panama City, Fla.)

Visit The News Herald (Panama City, Fla.) at www.newsherald.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.