Thursday, July 11, 2013

Help with Community Substantial Damage Determinations After Flooding

As everyone living in the Northeast US already knows, it has been quite a rainy 2 months.  Although the Old Farmer's Almanac had predicted a hot and dry summer for most of the Vermont region, the rainfall that we have been seeing since the middle of May has been breaking many records in the Burlington area.  It seems like there have been very few days where there hasn't been hot and humid temperatures with at least some thunderstorm or rain.  In the past few days, however, many of the damages resulting from the frequent thunderstorms and rainfall does not appear to be limited to just road and culvert washouts and some wet basements.  There have been several reports of communities where homes are starting to become inundated because rivers are running consistently high and the floodplain is the only place left for water to flow. 

If you are a community employee or volunteer, your community participates in FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program and some of the homes that are located in the FEMA mapped floodplain (called the Special Flood Hazard Area, or SFHA) have flooded in the past two months, we want to make you aware of Substantial Damage determinations.  Part of the flood hazard area regulations that your community has adopted includes language about Substantial Improvements in the development standards.  What many people are not as aware of is that the language around Substantial Improvements also includes the term Substantial Damage. It is the community's responsibility to make a determination about whether a building has been Substantially Damaged and there are a few different ways to go about this process.

Many zoning or flood administrators became familiar with this term after Irene if there were damages to homes and other structures in the community.  However, for those of you not familiar with Substantial Damage, it means "damage of any origin sustained by a structure whereby the cost of restoring the structure to its before-damaged conditions would equal or exceed 50 percent of the market value of the structure before the damage occurred." (emphasis added).  The key things to notice is that the damage can occur from any origin, which can include fire, wind, waves, etc., and that the damage is compared to the pre-damaged value & condition, not compared to the condition that the owner will restore the building to after making repairs.  Once a person who's structure is located in a SFHA has been damaged, any permanent repairs need to be done in compliance with your municipal flood hazard bylaws.  A person whose building has been substantially damaged will most likely need follow the guidelines for substantial improvement when rebuilding their home, business or other structure. 

VTDEC has a website that was put up in the aftermath of the Lake Champlain flooding and Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 that provides additional information about Substantial Damage determinations and flood recovery.  This site contains links to a few documents that may be helpful while you and your community are trying to figure out what work will need to get done after the flood waters recede.  As always, your regional floodplain manager is available to assist you with substantial damage issues, reviewing repairs and applications, etc.  To find out who your regional floodplain is, you can view our Floodplain Manager Regions map here.  Others that may be helpful to you would be a Certified Floodplain Managers (CFM) in your area or another Zoning Administrator that may have had to deal with many damaged buildings in the aftermath of the 2011 Lake Champlain Flooding or Tropical Storm Irene.