GEORGE COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Unincorporated parts of George County are in danger of losing flood insurance and not being eligible for any emergency assistance if a disaster strikes. However, county leaders say they are addressing these issues in the hopes that that doesn't happen.
The National Flood Insurance Program has given the county until Nov. 28 to fix several violations or else it will be placed on probation. Those violations include deficiencies in the local floodplain management program and other criteria that are required to participate in the NFIP.
Being placed on probation is a formal notice to the community that the local floodplain management program is not compliant with the minimum standards of the NFIP. Probation is the first step in the process to suspend the community's eligibility to participate in the NFIP.
Flood insurance will still be available during the probationary period, however, a $50 surcharge will be added to all new and renewed flood insurance premiums sold within the community for at least one year from the probation date. The probation period will remain in effect until all the NFIP requirements are met.
When a community joins the NFIP, it voluntarily adopts local floodplain management regulations to meet NFIP minimum floodplain management criteria. Community Assistance Visits are conducted by both state and federal emergency management agencies.
FEMA and MEMA visited the unincorporated parts of George County on Aug. 14, 2003, and Aug. 26, 2014, according to the NFIP. That's when multiple program deficiencies and violations of the county's adopted floodplain management regulations were found. The county was told about those findings after each visit, said NFIP officials.
"The George County Board of Supervisors is taking this FEMA letter and probationary period very seriously," said supervisor Larry McDonald. "As soon as official notification came, the Board scheduled an update with our Floodplain Administrator and placed this topic on the August 6 meeting's agenda for action."
FEMA said two of the violations the county is being cited for include:
- Failure to require permits and maintain records of permits for construction of new structures and for other new development (such as filling and grading) activities in a Special Flood Hazard Area.
- Failure to obtain and maintain elevation certificates of the lowest floor of all new construction and substantially improved structures in the Special Flood Hazard Area.
"This probation directly deals with the last of 13 properties identified during a FEMA visit and review more than three years ago," said McDonald. "The homes or structures on these properties are in violation of the Floodplain Ordinance required by FEMA. Some of these violations are minor, such as an outside AC unit needing to be raised a few inches. But, some cases are far more difficult to fix. For example, a home that needs to be raised several feet.
The county has given each of these property owners multiple notices, warnings, and as much time as possible to resolve their ordinance violations. This letter from FEMA is clearly ending this timeframe.
The board during our August 6 meeting directed the County's Floodplain Administrator to send out a final notice packet to each of these property owners. Also several supervisors, including myself, agreed to personally reach out to residents on the list in a last-ditch effort."
If significant progress is not made to correct program deficiencies and violations during the first six months of NFIP probation, George County could be suspended from the NFIP. Being suspended would result in the loss of federally-backed flood insurance in the community.
"After this warning, the Board's options will be limited," said McDonald. "We could be forced to start proceedings to remove some of these properties from the flood insurance program. The Board will take all necessary steps to keep and safeguard flood insurance for the vast majority of our property owners in the floodplain."
Suspension means that federal agencies are prohibited from making grants, loans, or guarantees for the acquisition or construction of structures located in the Special Flood Hazard Area. Lending institutions insured or regulated by a federal agency may continue to make conventional loans in these areas at their discretion.
If a flood disaster occurs in a suspended community, most types of federal disaster assistance would not be available. This includes the acquisition, construction, or repair of insurable structures within the Special Flood Hazard Area as well as federal assistance to individuals and households for housing and personal property.
Since 2004, FEMA has provided more than $13 million through the Individual and Households Program to help people recover in George County and more than $3.2 million in public assistance to rebuild infrastructure to help the community recover from natural disasters.
Unincorporated George County has 114 flood insurance policies in force with a total coverage of over $16 million. Since joining the NFIP, there have been 43 flood insurance claims submitted, resulting in more than $387,000 in claims paid in the county.
George County faces significant risks from flooding. FEMA officials say FEMA and MEMA remain available to assist the county in establishing an effective floodplain management program to protect public health, safety, and welfare of the community.