Some Galveston County residents will have to rebuild Hurricane Harvey-flooded homes to higher standards, and soon they will get this news as Federal Emergency Management Agency officials complete damage surveys.
In League City, 58 homes fall in this category, building official Bob Kinsey said Friday.
The city is enforcing strict ordinances on where property owners can build and how they do it, or else the city can become ineligible to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program, officials said.
If a city or other community doesn’t participate in the program, residents who live inside the boundaries can’t get National Flood Insurance and have to turn to private insurers for coverage, a FEMA representative said.
“No law requires that they participate,” FEMA spokesman John Miles said Friday. “If they do participate, they have to have ordinances that meet standards, and they have to enforce them.”
The intent is to keep people from building in hazardous places, Miles said. Depending on where the property is, the remedy might be to build an elevated structure or to demolish an existing one, he said.
“Telling people they can’t build the way they want to can be upsetting,” Miles said.
Kinsey also is aware of that, and he is already expecting complaints to his office and to elected officials, he said.
By THE NUMBERS
The National Flood Insurance Program had 90,000 claims in Texas after Hurricane Harvey, and the program has paid 55 percent of them at a total cost of $5 billion, Miles said.
“The average claim is $95,000,” he said. “Smaller claims get paid quicker.”
FEMA’s preliminary assessments identified 1,165 properties in League City that might be substantially damaged, Kinsey said.
After FEMA representatives inspected these properties, the agency confirmed that out of the 1,165 properties, 274 had a percentage of damage. Of those, 216 properties had less than 50 percent overall damage to the property, but the other 58 had 50 percent or more overall damage, Kinsey said.
The benefits of participating in the National Flood Insurance Program is more than just flood insurance coverage, Kinsey said. It also includes opportunities for grants and loans, disaster assistance and federally backed mortgages.
The program has a built-in mechanism to mitigate structures in the floodplain, Kinsey said.
“It is called substantial damage, or more commonly known as the 50-percent rule,” Kinsey said. “It will help end the damage cycle of build-flood, build-flood, build-flood.”
Substantial damage means damage to a structure that results in the cost of restoring the structure to its previous condition equaling or exceeding 50 percent of the market value of the structure before the damage occurred, Kinsey said.
When the cost of the work reaches 50 percent, the structure must be brought into compliance with current ordinances and codes, he said.
At the federal level, the program identifies risks with floodplain maps. This is starting to include maps of entire watersheds rather than isolated communities, Miles said.
The program’s federal staff members also come up with the building standards that later become city ordinances once city councils or other official bodies adopt them. Federal employees also can assist and advise cities, Miles said.
At the community level, local officials and floodplain administrators adopt and enforce floodplain management ordinances that comply with federal and state laws, Kinsey said. As a building official and a floodplain administrator, Kinsey can allow or deny development in League City.
Only one business fell into the substantial-damage category in League City, and that business was an apartment complex, Kinsey said.
The 50-percent rule applies to business, also, Miles said.
Flood mitigation for a business can be different, however, both Kinsey and Miles said. A business at which no one sleeps at night might have less strict guidelines depending on where it is located, Miles said.
WHAT COMES NEXT
Kinsey is sending letters to property owners to notify them of substantial damage or non-substantial damage, he said.
He and his staff members are documenting substantial damage in the city’s permit system to make sure all departments are on the same page when property owners seek permission to build or make improvements.
Kinsey’s office also will provide advice to the 58 owners of substantially damaged properties on their options for elevation, relocation or demolition, he said.
At the same time, the city will encourage those property owners not in the substantial damage group to consider ways to mitigate flood damage. The city would still allow permits to rebuild under those circumstances, Kinsey said.
And the property owners can appeal either the substantial damage determination for repair costs or for the market value, he said.
“Harvey was one-third larger than Katrina,” Miles said. “Private insurance is not lining up for this risk.”