County held to ‘unusually high bar’ by FEMA

A federal agency seems to be holding Island County to a higher standard than others in the region for a national program that provides flood insurance and disaster aid.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency sent a press release last week stating that the county was facing probation from the National Flood Insurance Program because some of its properties are noncompliant.

County officials have found that at least one other county with noncompliant properties identified by FEMA is not being threatened with probation from the program, Island County Building Official Andy Griffin said.

Last week, the county commissioners signed a letter to agency officials outlining the progress the planning department has made in bringing properties into compliance and expressing disappointment at its recent threat.

“In communication with nearby counties, we feel that your office has set an unusually high bar of compliance for our residents,” the letter states.

In 2013, the agency conducted a “community assist visit,” which is essentially an audit of the program. After the audit, the agency created a list of 135 properties that weren’t in compliance with the program for deficiencies that include buildings constructed at too low of elevation, foundations without flood openings and structures with crawl spaces not built to standards, according to the press release.

There are 11 remaining properties from this list that are still noncompliant, according to County Development Services Director Hiller West. Many of these property owners haven’t been responsive to notices sent by the department, he said.

“There are other counties that have had their CAV (community assist visit) open just as long as ours has,” Griffin said in an interview.

In reaching out to these other counties, he’s found that their flood insurance holders haven’t been threatened with a $50 probationary surcharge on premiums if the issues aren’t resolved by the end of March, as Island County’s have.

West said his staff has been working closely with the agency for the past couple of years to resolve these issues. County commissioners were surprised in November to hear about a letter from the agency to residents in the flood insurance program explaining the county’s deficiencies and violations and threatening the probation surcharge as well as possible suspension from the program.

West said the department is working with the prosecutor’s office to enact code enforcement actions on nearly all of the remaining properties that aren’t in compliance, and he’s confident the issue will be resolved by the deadline FEMA imposed.

Unincorporated Island County has 881 active policies, with a total coverage of almost $248 million, according to the release.

If the county is placed on probation, it could also face removal from the program. If a flood disaster occurs in a suspended county, “most types of federal disaster assistance” wouldn’t be available, the release states.

The letter sent by commissioners notes that the agency that it has the right to remove individuals from the program if they are in violation of the National Flood Insurance Act.

“We assume you may take any action you feel is necessary to remove these individual policy holders from your risk pool,” the letter states. “How you choose to do so is not Island County’s prerogative.”

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