New FEMA flood maps could drown Topsail Beach residents with higher insurance rates

New FEMA flood maps could drown Topsail Beach residents with higher insurance rates

TOPSAIL BEACH, NC (WECT) - Living along the coast, flooding is a major concern and because of that risk you may have a flood insurance policy. After the release of new flood hazard maps, rising water is no longer the biggest concern of some Topsail Beach residents.

In September of 2014, the Federal Emergency Management Agency released preliminary flood hazard maps for coastal North Carolina. These new maps have upgraded portions of Topsail Beach's flood zones.

"It could easily be a tenfold increase in your flood insurance premiums on a house that was AE and gets reclassified to a VE," said Topsail Beach Homeowner Michael Nelson.

What's the difference between these two zones?

AE flood zones are found all over the state where homes are prone to major flooding. According to FEMA, the average policy costs $650.

VE zones are mainly found along the coast. These zones are the highest risk - meaning your home would literally get hit by waves during a storm. Policies for VE zones could cost you upwards of $30,000 per year.

"If you have a mortgage, you have to have flood insurance, and if you can't afford the flood insurance what are you gonna do?" Topsail Beach Homeowner Mark Angotti added. "No one wants to buy your house because you're in a VE zone."

It turns out the data collected to create these new maps are from 2011 - right after Hurricane Irene brushed the island.

"It showed a little dip in our dune area," Angotti said.

Therefore, the town of Topsail Beach is fighting back with an appeal.

"Some of our residents were a bit concerned because we've done beach nourishment projects," Topsail Beach Town Manager Tim Holloman commented. "They thought if anything, we'd lessen the storm impact on the beaches and sound. So, we have to prove that."

"There's 630,000 being pumped on the beach right now as we speak. They've been here since December," Nelson added.

"FEMA took measurements along all of the coastal areas and that's the data they came up with and their measurements are satellite images and aero photography of a bit higher level, so this information is a little bit more detailed, so that's why we think the appeal will be successful," Holloman explained.

Between Scott Avenue and Clark Avenue, about a mile long stretch, four blocks, and 200-plus plots of land, the VE zones, if approved, would mean extreme impacts for this isolated area of Topsail Beach.

Of course, there's the higher flood insurance policies, which could lead to lower property values, a lower tax base and ultimately halt the building of future homes adding vacant properties.

"Our engineering consultant is familiar with the wave height analysis formula and the computer software," Holloman said. "He's actually taking the physical data in the field. He feels confident that the majority of those areas between Scott and Clark are appealable."

About 20 percent of the proposed VE zones are believed to stay in the high risk area with 80 percent to successfully be placed back into the AE zone.

"Overall, we should be able to reduce this greatly, the number of folks in the VE zone," Engineer Consultant Chris Gibson added.

However, the coastal engineering survey and appeals process doesn't run cheap. The Town has fronted $15,000 to get the initial study started.

"The board is just trying to be a mechanism to appeal cause it's hard for these residents to get together to do a formal appeal," Holloman explained.

The 200-plus affected residents are being asked to contribute $240 each to help with the rest of the process.

"I mean, if you're talking about your insurance rates increasing $3,000 to $4,000 a year, then $240 is a small price to pay," Holloman added.

About half of residents are on board. Involved homeowners are trying to get everyone up to speed, including out-of-town or even out-of-state homeowners who rent out their property.

"Bottom line on it is - this town has been very diligent in putting sand on that beach to build are beaches up and the purpose for that is not just for the tourists to have a nice place to plant their chair, but to protect the property," Nelson explained.

"If they would have some kind of policy that you have to do the survey within 12 months of the new flood map then you have the latest data and our beaches are in a lot better shape than they were in 2011," Angotti commented.

"This is just to me somebody with the federal government flying over in an airplane shooting a radar beam down in 2011 and saying ok we're going to change this section of the beach, it doesn't add up. It just doesn't make sense," Nelson added.

For now, residents wait on edge to see how the appeals process plays out and they're hoping FEMA realizes this was all a big mistake.

Some coastal areas actually benefited from these new maps, but unfortunately for some it did the opposite.

The Town of Topsail Beach has spent approximately $23,000,000 on beach re-nourishment projects since 2011 in efforts to prevent something like this to happen.

The appeals process takes 90 days and the Town will decide if they'll go through with the formal appeal during their March meeting.

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