The city has ticked off the preliminary boxes toward meeting FEMA standards that could result in discounted flood insurance rates for residents, according to Kristin Baja, Climate and Resilience Planner for the City of Baltimore, Office of Sustainability.
“We’ve gone through a couple of first tiers,” she said.
The National Flood Insurance Program is a partnership between the federal government and about 90 private insurance companies in which homeowners, renters and businesses within certain flood zones may buy flood insurance for set rates.
Those rates could be lowered if Baltimore manages to meet certain criteria for FEMA’s Community Rating System, which is an incentive program that discounts NFIP flood insurance rates for communities that go above and beyond FEMA’s minimum standards when it comes to flooding.
Currently, the city is working toward obtaining a “letter of good standing” from FEMA, which would signal a move toward those standards.
In order to obtain that letter, Baja said, Baltimore must take corrective actions on certain items identified by FEMA during “community assistance visits” and through analysis of the city’s policies and practices related to flooding.
Baja said that the process usually takes about eight months, but the federal agency has agreed to put Baltimore on the fast track.
“FEMA has been very kind to move their schedules for us,” said Baja. “We’ve completed two visits so far, and are getting started on the corrective action plan.”
Under the community rating system, communities are rated according to 10 classes. A “Class 10″ community receives no insurance discounts. A “Class 9″ community receives a 5-percent discount; Class 8 receives 10-percent, and so on until Class 1, which receives the maximum 45-percent discount.
At the same time, flood insurance rates are set to increase across the board, 25 percent per year over the next four years. So the rates will increase no matter what, but participation in the Community Rating System can limit the degree to which they increase.
At the beginning of the month, the city officially adopted changes to its floodplain maps and some regulatory changes. The city’s designated “free board,” or elevation above the predicted floodplain required for the first floor of new construction has increased from 1 foot to 2 feet in order to anticipate more severe floods caused by climate change, Baja said.
Also adopted was a “flood resilience area” which extends the same flood resilience design standards to the 500-year-storm map limit. Baja said that this will also make Baltimore more resilient to the impacts of sea level rise and climate change.”
This change won’t make development more difficult because we already regulate to this line,” she said. “These additional protective measures are meant to help our status in the Community Rating System, and therefore reduce flood insurance rates for our citizens.”
In the city’s new maps, the flood line has actually receded toward the shore. Baja emphasized that the flood line is established using historical data only–not predictions of increasingly extreme weather or predictions based on climate change. 2012’s Hurricane Sandy was not a factor in the new flood maps, as it occurred after the data for the maps had been collected.
by Erik Zygmont