SCDNR: Serious problems with Charleston’s flood program

City working to remedy potential violations

SCDNR: Serious problems with Charleston’s flood program

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - According to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, there are “serious” problems with Charleston’s floodplain management program and regulations.

SCDNR administers the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The agency’s website says the mission of NFIP is to work with South Carolina citizens and communities to minimize losses due to flood conditions.

Part of that program is performing Community Assistance Visit reports.

One CAV report from August of this year identifies potential violations. The last CAV report in the City of Charleston was more than ten years ago on August 7, 2007, the report said.

The report said about 127 subdivisions and 4,496 lots were built in the City since 2013. “Approximately 60% of the City’s parcels are located within the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA). The City has had flooding problems for many years.”

It also said Charleston has the highest amount of “Repetitive Loss structures in the State” at 677 structures, about a fourth of the state’s total.

Ordinances need to be updated

“The City’s ordinance must be updates through an expedited process,” the report said. Current regulations are “missing minimum NFIP regulations, including, but not limited to, a Flood Insurance Study (FIS) date adoption the current effective maps.”

The City is not in compliance with NFIP without an FIS date, it continued, and said the city “must adopt this date as soon as possible.”

That ordinance is set to be updated Tuesday night at the City Council meeting.

Assessments of structural damage needed

The City has completed damage assessments for the three presidentially-declared disasters such as the 2015 flood and Hurricanes Matthew and Irma, the report said.

“However, the City did not complete substantial damage assessments of structures in the SFHA as is required per the NFIP. The City has begun the process of doing these assessments retroactively by using a combination of their damage assessments, photos of high-water marks, and flood insurance claims.”

Role of floodplain manager lacking

The report says City of Charleston has an extensive system of checks and balances to make sure a property in the SFHA is not overlooked or permitted incorrectly.

“However, the role of the floodplain manager is lacking,” the report said. “The floodplain manager does not appear to be involved in the permitting process or the substantial improvement/substantial damage process. The floodplain manager should be the person providing centralized oversight to the City’s floodplain management program and delegating tasks accordingly.”

The report outlined suggested roles and responsibilities the floodplain manager, should take on.

Stephen Julka is the current Floodplain Administrator for the City of Charleston.

Homes sold without proper certificates of occupancy

The report describes some properties in the Willow Walk Subdivision that were built below the base flood elevation and therefore not given a Certificate of Occupancy (CO) by the City.

“These homes were sold to residents without a proper CO and were already occupied when it was discovered that no CO had been issued,” the report explained.

The city is currently reaching out to residents to mitigate that situation, and SCDNR “highly encourage[s] the City to continue seeking mitigation options for these residents including, elevation, buyouts, demo/rebuild. Our office stands ready to assist in these discussions with the City.”

City currently working on remedies

City of Charleston spokesman Jack O’Toole said work is already in progress to improve the deficiencies outlined in this report.

“In the last 30 days, the city has worked to remedy all issues identified in the SCDNR report, with the exception of the update to our flood-prevention ordinance, which is scheduled for Council action this evening. The city expects to successfully complete its SCDNR review shortly after the ordinance is passed into law.”

The City is also seeking funds from grant programs and works with federal agencies properly when it needs to, according to the report.

SCDNR recommended that the city dedicate additional resources and staff to its floodplain management program to keep up with the increasing populations and recent amount of flooding in the City, which is putting more pressure on the program.

SCDNR asked the City to provide a report to SCDNR on the status of these findings by November 5, 2018.

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