The City of Fort Pierre could find itself on probationary status with the Federal National Flood Insurance Program on Oct. 14 due to deficiencies and violations with the city’s floodplain management program according to a release from FEMA on Tuesday.
The city can avoid probation if they “either remediate all outstanding violations or prepare a compliance plan approved by FEMA,” according the release.
“When a community joins the NFIP, it voluntarily adopts local floodplain management regulations to meet NFIP minimum floodplain management criteria,” FEMA said. “Placement on probation is a formal notice to the community that the local floodplain management program is not compliant with the criteria of the NFIP and is the first step in the process to suspend the community’s eligibility to participate in the NFIP.”
Fort Pierre’s violations include buildings in FEMA-designated Special Flood Hazard Areas elevated below the Base Flood Elevation and “insufficient” flood vents for structures inside SFHAs and encroaching on a regulatory floodway.
“The purpose of the SFHA is to show areas that are subject to flooding to inform existing occupants and help ensure that when development occurs, it is built to reduce the risk of loss of life and property,” a FEMA spokesperson told the Capital Journal on Wednesday. “This depiction is meant to support all of the community in understanding the flooding risk. Flood Insurance Rate Maps depict this area of risk based on conditions at a single point in time. As the City of Fort Pierre has experienced in the past, the risk is not limited to the flood hazard area and flooding can and does occur outside of it. This is why FEMA recommends everyone be aware of their risk of flooding and take actions that can help reduce that risk. Actions may be as simple as elevating a water heater or purchasing flood insurance.”
SFHA violations occurred throughout the community and are not isolated to one part of the city, the spokesperson said. They added all violation seemed to be residential buildings but include non-residential structures like garages and carports.
Fort Pierre is the only South Dakota community looking at possible probation, the spokesperson said.
Fort Pierre Mayor Gloria Hanson told the Capital Journal the city is taking the situation “very seriously.”
“If the city is placed on probation, if we for whatever reason don’t meet the deadline and take care of all these infractions, it means a boost in flood insurance costs for our residents,” Hanson said. “It’s difficult because living in a town that has two rivers within it, a lot of our residents, a lot of our property is impacted.”
Hanson said the city is working “constantly” with property owners to remedy the situation.
Fort Pierre Public Works Director Rick Hahn said some of the homes in Fort Pierre SFHAs were remodels or replacement homes from after the 2011 Missouri River flood.
“Some of them were built before they even had flood zones, the others, as long as you properly flood-proof your home and properly build your home to a proper elevation, they’re allowed to rebuild back in those locations,” Hahn said. “Some of the so-called violations were just the fact that we didn’t have the follow-up paperwork to go along with that. Elevation certificates being one of them, to show or indicate that you are above the floodplain or letters of map revision need to be filed for those who were out of the floodplain technically but not officially. So we’re just following up on a few of those.”
Hahn said the city has reached the point that it could apply to declare some Fort Pierre properties Section 1316 properties, under which the property in question will be denied NFIP insurance until their issues are resolved.
According to FEMA’s website, Section 1316 is a backup for local enforcement actions where a community couldn’t force compliance through mechanisms in its regulations and not meant as a means to remove bad risks from the policy base.
“What the city’s going to end up doing is just claiming the Section 1316, and that pulls the city out of the probation end of it, puts those people on the hook for getting themselves out, and we’ll guide them and help them as much as possible to fully qualify again,” Hahn said. “It just gives them a little more time, gives the city more time if we just call them out as 1316.”
For homes the city hasn’t had to turn to Section 1316 for, Hahn said the city has mostly been asking property owners to provide required information for elevation certificates or letters of map revision.
“Really this is a process by which FEMA just gets everybody in compliance,” Hahn said. “It’s a little more leverage tool, it’s a tool for the city to stay out of violations with FEMA because being next to the river, we need flood insurance.”