FEMA threat draws county rebuke

Island County commissioners are “aghast” at recent actions taken by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that could affect local shoreline property owners.

During a work session Wednesday, commissioners and planning staff discussed a draft letter to the agency that questions its decision to notify shoreline property owners that Island County isn’t in compliance with a 1968 law; FEMA’s notice said flood insurance customers would need to pay a $50 “probation surcharge” on their premiums if the issue isn’t resolved by the end of March.

If more steps weren’t taken to resolve the issue, the agency said the county could be suspended from the National Flood Insurance Program, and thus its residents wouldn’t be eligible for federally backed flood insurance.

Island County staff were unaware this letter would be sent or of a March deadline.

There are 11 properties that don’t meet the regulations, which is why Island County is considered out of compliance, according to Planning Director Hiller West.

West’s staff as well as the county prosecutor’s office have been in the process of trying to contact these 11 property owners, he told the commissioners on Wednesday.

Commissioners said they appreciated the effort, but rebuked the idea of the remaining flood insurance holders in the county being punished because of a handful of non-compliant property owners.

“I want to know what it is that’s special about Island County that makes it so our entire county is being threatened with loss of flood insurance,” Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said Wednesday.

Price Johnson asked staff to research if other counties with significant shoreline were held to the same standard of 100 percent compliance.

In 2013, the agency asked for documentation on 135 properties, many of which lacked elevation certificates.

Others had problems with venting or other construction that did not follow the National Flood Insurance Program requirements.

Over the last couple of years, the county has been working closely with the agency to whittle down this list, West said. Some of the remaining properties hadn’t answered multiple attempts to contact, which prompted code-enforcement actions.

One homeowner appealed this action, West said.

Since FEMA sent the letter, West said he’s created timelines for compliance for three more properties.

Given how cooperative Island County had been, West said he was surprised at the agency’s decision to threaten surcharges or removal from the flood insurance program.

“It appears to be your intent to potentially harm our entire community by raising county-wide flood insurance policy premiums as these owners utilize their right to due process, which Island County takes seriously,” the draft letter to FEMA states.

“You assured us time to initiate formal code enforcement proceedings …. the entire community should not be punished while the legal landscape takes shape for the last remaining holdouts.”

Commissioners are expected to sign a final draft of the letter at their next regular meeting.

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