The Fate of Freeboard
|Standing before the Dorchester County Council at their October 19 meeting, Nick Lyons presents Bill 2010-20. He tells them that a three-foot factor of safety (freeboard) would have likely prevented a lot of the flood damage that county residents suffered during Hurricane Isabel. And in the past year, there have already been several days when the southern part of the county has experienced flooding, with floodwaters entering homes, according to Wayne Robinson, the emergency management director for county.
Lyons also tells the Council and public attendees that adopting freeboard would reduce flood insurance rates significantly—by up to 20 percent. And this cost savings would likely offset the added costs in construction. Bud Hankins is there to validate Lyons’s statement about insurance rates. After having their house elevated, he says, they received a discount on their flood insurance.
If the bill passes, Lyons adds, the Hankinses should receive yet another drop in their rates because the community as a whole would become eligible for the Community Rating System, an incentive program that rewards community floodplain management activities that exceed minimum National Flood Insurance Program requirements.
But the critics haven’t been won over. County resident John Battista is worried about increasing the restrictions already placed on the use of resident-owned property. He would rather “risk the odds” than raise his home above base flood elevation. Property owners should be allowed to decide for themselves how much flood risk they are willing to take, he says.
Concerns also arise over increasing construction costs. Councilman William Nichols from District 2 argues that imposing a freeboard requirement would place too harsh an economic burden on residents. He suspects that the end result may be an increase in building costs that will negate the insurance rate decrease. “In the current economic climate,” he says, “implementing a freeboard requirement will only burden a new homeowner.”
Councilman Ricky Travers from District 3 and Councilman Rick Price from District 4 agree. Travers also echoes the sentiment expressed by Battista that the decision to elevate their home should be a personal one.
The time comes for a roll call vote. Four Council members opposed, only one in favor. The Council agrees not to proceed with Bill 2010-20.
Freeboard will not come to Dorchester County—at least not now. Nick Lyons is surprised and disappointed. This is the fourth time he’s pushed for freeboard legislation before the County Council. This is the fourth time it has failed. He doubts that it will come up again during his tenure with the county and he’s “pretty much out of steam on it.”
A large number of houses already require flood insurance in Dorchester County, Lyons says. And that number will likely grow larger with the pending adoption of elevation upgrades in the new Digital Flood Insurance Rate Maps. Without freeboard, flood insurance premiums will remain high. In the end, the decision not to adopt freeboard could end up costing the homeowners of Dorchester County a lot of money.
Lyons suspects it will take another great storm like Isabel to stir up enough concern, to make people wish that they’d adopted the change when they’d had the chance. He hopes that a group of individuals will come together to bring momentum to this issue again for Dorchester County. And before it is too late.
Editor’s note: On March 15, 2011, the County Council of Dorchester County adopted new floodplain management regulations that incorporate two feet of freeboard into the flood protection elevation. The new regulations go into effect on May 24, 2011.
Erica Goldman was a science writer for the Maryland Sea Grant Program when she wrote this story, which originally appeared in the December 2010 issue of Chesapeake Quarterly. She is currently the Assistant Director for Science Policy Outreach at Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea.