How a house gets raised in Beaufort County

Published 8:05 pm Friday, August 4, 2017



Since 2011, FEMA has spent $7.2 million on flood hazard mitigation in Beaufort County — elevating homes, acquiring, tearing down and rebuilding flooded structures.

“Typically, here, people think of mitigation as elevation, but it’s not always,” said Lisa Respess Williams, emergency services specialist with Beaufort County Emergency Management.

Williams spends a lot of time explaining mitigation, especially about how properties are chosen to be elevated: which ones, why and how long it takes.

“There is so much misinformation out there,” Williams said.

The biggest misconception is that properties are chosen randomly, though that’s not the case at all, she said. To have a house elevated through the national mitigation assistance program is a long and tedious process that takes several years and goes through several government agencies before the work crews show up, Williams said.

It starts with a database from FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program. Once a year, Williams requests, and receives, the database that lists every property in Beaufort County for which a flood insurance claim has been filed. Each property falls into one of two categories: those that have seen repetitive loss and those that have had severe repetitive loss.

“The database will show all of the claims and in what amount,” Williams said. “Once you reach a certain amount of loss, you move over to the severe repetitive loss.”

Williams has the database at her fingertips, so when North Carolina Emergency Management contacts her and says there’s grant money available to elevate structures, she gets to work. It’s not as simple as picking houses that have been on the list the longest. In fact, each grant comes with a set list of criteria — it may be that a property has to have flooded a specific number of times or insurance claims filed on the house must add up to a certain percentage of the home’s worth, and since Hurricane Floyd in 1999, only homes with flood insurance policies have been considered for any grant.

Once Williams finds properties that meet the grant criteria, she sends the files to NCEM’s Flood Mitigation Assistance program, where each is further evaluated. If approved, the information is passed on to FEMA.

Williams said she has to choose properties carefully, because if one doesn’t meet the grant criteria, it jeopardizes the rest.

“Let’s say there are 15 houses that meet the criteria of the grant. I send all those files up to NCEM hazard mitigation. Files are reviewed to make sure they meet the criteria, because if you submit to FEMA and only one of those properties do not meet the criteria, they’ll throw the whole thing out,” Williams said.

While the review process at the state may take two to three months, Williams said the review process at the federal level can take much longer.

“It’s going to be 6 months to a year before FEMA gets back to us, and anywhere from 18 months to 2 years before your house is even started — it could be 18 months to 2 years before the site survey is even done,” Williams said. “From start to finish, if your property is selected, and I send it up and it’s approved, you’re looking at about a 3-year process.”

Here’s an idea of how long the process takes: just three weeks ago, Williams got construction bids on properties she initially submitted in 2014.

What FEMA is doing during part of that time is plugging every property into a program that evaluates whether it makes more sense monetarily from FEMA’s end to raise the property: how much per square foot it’s going to take to raise a given house compared to what’s been paid on that house in claims.

“We have no control. … It’s completely out of our hands,” Williams said. “It’s completely based on numbers.”

Another misconception people have is that every home in the county being raised is being done so by FEMA hazard mitigation assistance, therefore Beaufort County Emergency Management is involved in the process. Not so, Williams said.

Some property owners in high-risk flooding areas pay higher premiums for Increased Cost of Compliance coverage. With ICC, if enough damage is done by flooding, the National Flood Insurance Program payout can be as much as $30,000 to cover the cost of mitigation measures, including elevation. Other property owners have paid for elevation out of pocket, rather than wait on the long process.

“Every house that you see elevated has not been elevated by FEMA,” Williams said.

She also said that if a house has been raised by owners, she’d love to know about it, so she can remove that property from her database and give others a chance at that spot. Most houses are submitted multiple times before they’re funded and property owners don’t have to resubmit paperwork every time; instead the property simply stays in the database waiting for the next grant.

Williams also wants to know about homes that have been flooded, though no claims have been filed on the property because the owner does not have insurance. While grant criteria has uniformly required insurance for properties to be eligible, she still keeps a file in case a grant comes up.

“If there’s a mortgage on it, you have to have flood insurance, but we have a lot of property in this county with no mortgage,” Williams said. “The more we can show we have unmet needs, the more likely it is, should that opportunity arise, we’ll be able to apply to it because we can show that there is a need (for mitigation assistance).”

When it comes to mitigation, Williams spends time doling out information and seeking it. She hunts down people through her database to tell them their property is up for consideration; she goes out and talks to civic groups to explain the mitigation process. She’s actively seeking those whose homes have had additional flooding damages since Hurricane Irene in 2011 so she an update her database now, as opposed to when NFIP sends the next yearly installment.

Williams wants to hear from people — even if it’s just to chat for a few minutes over the many months that it takes from application to elevation.

“It is our goal to elevate as many of these structures as we can because: No. 1, it protects life and property; No. 2, it prevents property from going out of the tax base for the county,” Williams said.

For more information about the county mitigation efforts, call Williams at Beaufort County Emergency Management, 252-946-2046.