CRS Helps Pull it All Together for Gloucester County
“The Community Rating System serves us as a comprehensive program aid,” observes Paul Koll, Building Code and Floodplain Management Official for Gloucester County, Virginia. “Because it is point driven, it helps us stay focused on the tasks we want to undertake and we can see results. This is critical when you are trying to pull a lot of activities together and trying to get local officials to understand what you are doing.”
Gloucester County lies along the lower Chesapeake Bay, bounded on the southwest by the York River. About one-quarter of its 288-square-mile jurisdiction is water—streams, creeks, and coastal wetlands. The County faces both coastal and riverine flooding, tropical storms, hurricanes, and flash floods from intense thunderstorms.
The unincorporated county has 1,700 National Flood Insurance Program policies in force for over $1.4 million in annual premiums. The County is a CRS Class 7 (soon to be a Class 6) and its current discount (15%) amounts to almost $217,000 in annual savings. This is a huge selling point to the citizens and to the County officials. As insurance premiums rise, the CRS discount becomes more and more valuable. “As a plus,” adds Koll, “as we reduce flood losses, we also reduce the County’s expenses for emergency response simply because fewer responses are needed.”
“The CRS has been very helpful in getting our citizens and our environment together,” says Koll. The state’s Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act of 1988 requires tidewater counties to take steps to plan for and manage the “adverse environmental effects of growth and development” on the sensitive areas along the Bay and waterways. This has included establishing and managing special resource protection areas, controlling erosion and sediment, and protecting water quality. “Doing what the state of Virginia requires us to do as part of that Act helps us to focus on the CRS as well, because when we document those things we earn CRS credit for protecting natural functions,” explains Koll.
Higher Regulatory Standards
When Gloucester County joined the CRS back in 1995, it had in place only minimum National Flood Insurance Program standards for floodplain management. Since then, several standards have been added that receive CRS credit because they go beyond the minimum requirements and therefore further reduce potential losses. These have included a two-foot freeboard standard and protecting critical facilities.
The Virginia Building and Code Officials Association, of which Koll is a member, helped develop Virginia’s statewide building code. “In the last two code revisions,” he says, “we were able incorporate a one-foot freeboard standard for VE Zones. In the 2015 revision of the codes—yet to be adopted—we got an “Area of Limited to Moderate Wave Action (LiMWA)” added to our Flood Insurance Rate Maps.” It will require that V-Zone construction standards be applied to development in what were previously coastal A Zones. The County gets an “automatic” higher standard, and accompanying CRS credit—just by adopting and enforcing the uniform building code.
According to Koll, a big part of Gloucester County’s success in the CRS and in floodplain management has been getting timely and accurate information out to the citizens. “It’s important to not only get support from the Board of Supervisors, but from the citizens as well,” he notes.
Gloucester County has an active Floodplain Management Planning Committee with representatives of insurance agents, real estate agents, floodplain residents, emergency management, zoning, and parks and recreation. The Floodplain Committee realizes how important it is to get the information out and make sure that everyone knows what it means to build and live in a floodplain.
The Floodplain Committee reports to the Board of Supervisors at designated intervals. The Committee conducts workshops and makes floodplain management presentations to professional groups. The committee’s outreach program also includes a quarterly newsletter, mailings to every County resident, and a PowerPoint presentation aired on a cable network several times a year. “We have a thorough and easy-to-access emergency services and floodplain management website,” notes Koll.
When the CRS Program for Public Information (PPI) credit option became available, the Floodplain Committee created a PPI subcommittee to enhance the County’s outreach initiatives. In developing the PPI, more citizens were brought into the outreach program. “The participation of stakeholders has been a huge factor in our outreach success,” Koll says. “They helped us develop the language for the messages in the PPI.”
CRS Users Group
Gloucester County helped to set up a 12-county regional CRS User Group, made up of both CRS and non-CRS counties and communities. “By meeting regularly, we get to pass on and share information about our CRS and floodplain management programs,” explains Koll. This group “has been one of the best things we’ve done.”
“The CRS has helped us bring all of these things together,” Koll concludes. “Everyone gains from it.”
Editor’s note: This is just a snapshot of Gloucester County’s floodplain management program. For more, see the County’s website.