Island County looks to prevent floods with FEMA

Property owners facing flood risk will be under the county’s microscope in the coming months.

The Federal Emergency Management Administration, or FEMA, started its regular review of county flood-related regulations as part of the National Flood Insurance Program.

Flooding remains the nation’s most deadly and highest risk hazard, according to John Graves with FEMA’s regional office.

Still, FEMA staff working in the flood program are on the lookout for all potential hazards.

The National Food Insurance Program functions under the Mitigation Division of FEMA, which also takes into account potential hazards like tsunamis, earthquakes, floods and landslides like the one experienced in Oso earlier this year.

“It’s a big circle we hope to improve,” said program specialist Michael Riedy.

Island County has opted to participate in the National Flood Insurace Program since 1975. The program provides more than $248 million in flood insurance coverage to the 990 resident policy holders.

According to FEMA documents, 130 flood claims have been filed in Island County since 1978.

Riedy met with Island County staff late last year to perform a field inspection of at-risk properties. As a result of that visit, Riedy said in a letter sent last month that FEMA’s major concerns are whether the county’s floodplain regulations are current and if the permitting and habitat assessment procedures are compliant with county code.

“The county has some deficiencies, which must be corrected,” Riedy wrote to the county.

FEMA has provided a list of 130 properties for which the county must provide permits, elevation certificates and habitat assessments.

FEMA initiates a Community Assistance Visit every 5-10 years to ensure the county is keeping up it’s part of the program by assisting residents in preparing their properties for possible flooding.

Andy Griffin, floodplain administrator for Island County, said this visit yielded a longer list of properties of concern.

Riedy said this is likely due to new technology that assists analysts in identifying potential flood areas much more accurately than before. Riedy said they were able to use tools like Google Earth and other new programs to overlay parcel data with the flood plain data. This led to a longer, and perhaps more accurate, list of hazard areas.

In contrast to other areas around Puget Sound, Island County does not have a major river system. Because of this, the county does not experience the magnitude or frequency of flooding as some communities do in neighboring counties, according to Island County documents.

Instead, island coasts are subject to intense and frequent flood waters during major storm events that may pose a significant risk to personal property.

Riedy said that while spring tends to be a flood season for Washington, Island County tends to see more flooding events in winter. He added that there is a 30-day waiting period for the insurance to become effective.

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