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Flood insurance rates could be receding soon
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Effingham County property owners could be getting a substantial break on their flood insurance premiums.

The county has been placed in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s community rating system, and all county residents in a flood zone will receive 15 percent discounts on their flood insurance.

County engineer Steve Liotta said the plan to become part of FEMA’s community rating system started basically from scratch. After the county adopted new flood maps in December 2010, the decision was made to apply for the community rating system.

“It’s what is like ISO is for fire ratings for flood ratings,” he explained.

The process started in May 2011, and the state Environmental Protection Division inspected the county’s program. Liotta said it consisted of internal policies and procedures and didn’t cost the county anything to do.

“We took a bunch of folks in their own jobs and coordinated a few actions and set up some procedures in-house,” he said.

Since building permits have to go through Liotta for approval, he is able to see if where the permit will be is in a flood zone. If it is, Liotta said they can see that the proper actions are taken and that the required elevations are done.

“We get a lot of extra points for our requirements, that all structures be built above flood elevation,” he said.

Effingham County received a CRS of 7 — the scale is from one to 10 — and Liotta said it is rare that a community receives such a favorable rating on its entry into the list. With a 10 rating, the discount is 5 percent and with a 1, the discount is 45 percent.

Only one community, Roseville, Calif., has a 1 rating. There are three 2s in the nation — King County, Wash., Pierce County, Wash., and Tulsa, Okla.

“There are 41 communities in the state in CRS and we received a class 7, and that is outstanding for a first-time community in the system,” Liotta said. “There are only eight other communities in the system with better than a class 7.”

Flood rates are changed only twice a year, Liotta explained, so the county was too late to get into the October rates. But as of May 1, he said, Effingham was officially a member of the CRS program.

“All Effingham County residents who are in a flood zone will start to receive 15 percent discounts on their flood insurance because of our actions,” he said.

Liotta said the county’s standing in the CRS could improve next year, after new maps based on LIDAR (light detection and ranging) are available and possible changes to ordinances on flood elevation requirements go forward.

The newest maps the county has are in digital form, and that has meant “huge accuracy gains” if someone is in the flood zone, Liotta noted.

“I can look at it in the computer and look at it with 99 percent confident if they are in or out,” he said, “And the change coming next year is even more impressive because it’s based on LIDAR.”

The LIDAR flights were a result of a consortium between Effingham and several coastal counties and the state Department of Natural Resources. LIDAR flights are flown in winter, when trees are bare of leaves, so LIDAR’s accuracy over previous topographical maps is “leaps and bounds” better, Liotta said.

“LIDAR is extremely accurate, down to about six inches,” he said.