PORT TOWNSEND — The Jefferson County commissioners unanimously approved an update to the flood damage prevention ordinance on Monday, voting to keep the above-base flood elevation requirement for structures at one foot after public comment urged them to raise it to two feet.
Director of Community Development Patty Charnas said the county has until June 7 to adopt the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) floodplain management measures that satisfy recent updates to federal code overseeing the National Flood Insurance Program.
Under the Flood Disaster Protection Act of 1973, flood insurance must be purchased by property owners seeking any federal financial assistance for construction or acquisition of buildings in what’s considered special flood hazard areas designated by the federal government.
Federal assistance includes federally protected mortgages, direct loans, disaster relief loans and grants, and other assistance under FEMA.
All loans obtained from federally regulated, supervised or insured lending institutions secured by improved real estate located in special flood hazard areas must include flood insurance coverage for buildings.
“This is why the federal government has let the state who oversees local flood programs know that we will lose our certification in the National Flood Insurance Program if we do not adopt these updates by June 7,” Charnas said.
Charnas said the county has done work in coordinating with the regional FEMA office and with the state Department of Ecology.
Associate Planner Donna Frostholm explained that the draft is the result of several years of work. Digital maps show the flood damage prevention areas designated by FEMA.
Frostholm said many of the changes add clarity.
“It is made clear to applicants when they do not have to come in,” she said.
“We have considerations that would have to be made before issuing a variance and a clarification of the requirements for appurtenant structures like attached garages and storage structures — the non-habitable portions of a house.”
Cindy Jayne, chairman of the city of Port Townsend Climate Action Committee and member of the Local 20/20 action group, was the lone speaker during the public hearing.
She told commissioners that her climate action committee made a motion at its April 24 meeting to raise the requirement for residential and non-residential structures from being one foot above base-flood elevation to two feet because FEMA maps don’t account for projected sea level rise.
Jayne said river flooding, which is not addressed, also is increasing due to climate change.
“The Port Townsend sea level rise is 2.2 feet and the Seattle rise is 2.3 feet,” Jayne said, referencing projections for 2100.
She urged commissioners to raise the base-level rate to two feet for the standard.
Frostholm told commissioners that FEMA allows a community to exceed the standards, but “we have to meet the minimum requirements.”
“Two feet over is logical and good for our residents,” Commissioner Greg Brotherton said.
But he didn’t think it was a time-critical endeavor that needed to be done immediately. He suggested that the commissioners take it seriously and address it in the future and entertain public comment about it.
“It costs a lot when a house is flooded,” he said.
Charnas said changing the height is procedural and she would develop a work program for investigating the change by the end of the year.
“This doesn’t prevent people who are building today to hedge their bets and build higher,” Commissioner David Sullivan added.
National Police Week
During the meeting, the commissioners adopted a proclamation designating May 15 as Peace Officer’s Memorial Day and this week as National Police Week.
The proclamation states the members of the Sheriff’s Office play an essential role in safeguarding rights and freedoms in Jefferson County and they unceasingly provide a vital public service.
They called upon all citizens to observe May 15 as Peace Officer’s Memorial Day in honor of those law enforcement officers who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their community or have become disabled in the performance of duty.
They asked citizens to recognize and pay respect to the survivors of those officers.
Jefferson County Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected].