Flood Insurance Going Down — But for How Long?

Cape Charles Wave

February 16, 2015

Historically, the towns of the Eastern Shore have been thought to be at risk from flooding. Flood insurance has always been scarce, and in the 1920s, since it was deemed unprofitable, the insurance industry basically dropped flood insurance (even when it was available, it was too high to attract customers that lived in flood plains).

In the 1960s, Congress began to feel that the way the country was dealing with natural disasters such as floods was expensive and inefficient. They felt that Federal flood programs were funded by all taxpayers, but only benefitted those that lived in flood plains, and who, even after experiencing disaster, would continue to live and build there. In 1968, Congress passed the National Flood Insurance Act which sought to move the costs of flood losses from taxpayers to the actual property owners that lived in flood plains.

The method chosen was to provide flood insurance premiums to flood plain residents. Congress attempted to try and influence development away from risky flood hazard areas, and required that new buildings be built to minimize flood damage.The Federal Insurance Administration (which at that time was in the Department of Housing and Urban Development) was in charge of the program.

Still, participation was weak, and few communities joined the program. In 1972, when hurricane Agnes ravaged the east coast, it was discovered that only 100,000 homes had the insurance. This led to the Flood Disaster Protection Act of 1973, which required that buildings located in identified flood hazard areas must have “flood insurance coverage as a condition of federal aid or loans from federally insured banks and savings and loans and as a condition for receiving federal disaster.” This worked, as more than 2 million polices soon went into effect.

In 1979, the Federal Emergency Management Agency took over the program. FEMA created a floodplain map and developed flood hazard data allowing areas to use them as a structural basis for regulating construction in areas that are prone to flooding. The first version was called the Flood Hazard Boundary Map. However, most places had their FHBM replaced by a Flood Insurance Rate Map, which usually has flood elevations and other flood hazard data.

Effective May 18, 2015, the updated version of the FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps will be in place. Due to the updated maps, Cape Charles must adopt an updated Flood Plain Ordinance by March 2, 2015, and submit it to the FEMA Regional Office. For most of us living in Cape Charles, we have become very familiar FEMA flood insurance, and our own Flood Insurance Rate Map.


Going back as far as August 2014, the Planning Commission began reviewing a “model ordinance” obtained from the National Flood Insurance Program Coordinator for the Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation. The importance of this work is that Cape Charles is a Community Rating System community — by enacting more stringent flood management programs, policy holders are eligible for substantial discounts on flood insurance. The Planning Commission, along with Code Enforcement Official Jeb Brady, included many of the higher standards in the draft Flood Plain Ordinance.

The revision of the Flood Plain Ordinance has been an iterative process, a data loop between our Planning Commission and National Flood Insurance Program Coordinator. As both parties have now agreed on all modifications, the Flood Plain Ordinance is ready for discussion.

On February 3, the Cape Charles Town Council and Planning Commission held a joint public hearing and special joint meeting to review and adopt the Cape Charles Zoning Ordinance, Article VI – Flood Plain District. In all, the Planning Commission and Town Council made short, efficient work of it — the Planning Commission recommended the Council accept the revisions as made. The Town Council accepted and approved those changes with a unanimous vote.

What does this mean for Cape Charles? As of May 2015, most homes in town, according to the revised flood plain map, will now exist outside the flood plain, and home owners will no longer be required to purchase flood insurance.

But Councilman Chris Bannon stressed that even as this revision of the map may place one’s property outside the flood plain for now, in the future, when the map is revised, the same house might once again find itself inside the plain. Acting Town Manager Bob Panek concurred, adding that the map is a dynamic, living document, and any changes will not be static. If a homeowner lets his policy lapse only to reinstate at a future date, “it may be much more expensive that what they are paying now.”

For more information on flood insurance, contact Libby Hume at [email protected], or 757-331-3259 x10.



One Response to “Flood Insurance Going Down — But for How Long?”

  1. Tom Brockenbrough on February 23rd, 2015 1:44 pm

    You might check the dates on this. The new FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps that take effect on May 18, 2015 are for Accomack County and its incorporated towns. I believe the new maps take effect in Northampton County and Cape Charles prior to that.

    According to the official Cape Charles Gazette, the date is May 18. CLICK to read the Gazette (see page 5).