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Lewes updates flood plain regulations

Cape Gazette of Lewes, Delaware

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New code could increase flood insurance discounts for residents

Lewes officials have been heading down a path that leads to larger discounts for residents who obtain flood insurance. The city cleared a big hurdle recently with the adoption of a new flood plain ordinance and updated building code.

The National Flood Insurance Program, managed through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, offers discounts for flood insurance through its Community Rating System. The more proactive a community is in preparing for flooding, the more points the community is awarded. The more points a town has, the higher the discount it receives.

Lewes has had a 5 percent discount since it joined the CRS in 1992. It is the lowest of any Delaware beach town. Bethany Beach, Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach, South Bethany and Fenwick Island have each achieved enough points to receive a 10 percent discount on flood insurance for their residents.

Mayor Ted Becker says the steps the city has taken over the last several months should improve the city's rating to the same level as Lewes' neighbors.

The new ordinance will become effective March 16, 2015, when FEMA's new flood maps take effect.

"It's anticipated by adopting this not only will we retain the CRS rating we have, but we hope to improve it significantly," said Becker. "That's certainly been echoed by our consultant. She thinks what we've proposed here should help that rating."

Early last year the city hired Rebecca Quinn of RC Quinn Consulting to analyze Lewes' code and offer recommendations to reduce the city's vulnerability to flooding. Quinn is nationally recognized as one of the top people in her field, Becker said.

"The city is very fortunate to have her expertise in crafting this," Becker said.

The city was able to hire Quinn through a state Coastal Management Assistance Grant. She presented her research and recommendations in June. Among the more notable changes in the new regulations is the adoption of 18 inches of freeboard, which is the amount of space above the flood level a home may be constructed. Comparatively, Sussex County recommends 12 inches of freeboard, but it is not mandatory.

Prior to the recent code change, Lewes did not have a requirement for freeboard, which applies to all new construction and substantial renovations. A substantial improvement is on that is at least 50 percent of the current assessment on the property. It is not the same that is used for tax purposes, said city building inspector Henry Baynum.

Baynum said the 18-inch requirement will not have major effects. Much of Lewes' base flood level will drop 1 foot according to FEMA's newest maps, he said, so the change in most cases will only be 6 inches.

Another major change is the inclusion in any flood zone of a regulation that prohibits fill to be used as structural support.

The latest regulations also remove a previous requirement for automatic sprinkler systems in new construction. Baynum said fewer than 30 percent of all municipalities across the country are including the sprinkler-system requirement in their updated code.

Mayor and city council held a public hearing Dec. 16 that was lightly attended. Those who were there spoke highly of the new regulations.

"This is a major, major step, and this should be applauded as such," said John Mateyko, who added that it fits into a larger plan he hopes the city will continue moving forward with.

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Original Publication Date: January 2, 2015

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