After several flood events ravaged the area, including Tropical Storm Lee in 2011, residents of the Borough of Muncy were sensitive to the damages that floodwaters can bring. With this in mind and proposed flood insurance rate hikes on the horizon, Lycoming County recognized its opportunity to assure community officials and residents that taking mitigation action now to increase their resiliency to flood hazards will decrease the impacts of future floods and flood insurance rate hikes.
Although many of the repetitive loss properties and structures built in Muncy Borough’s floodplains have been removed from the high-risk area through grant-funded mitigation efforts, 40 percent are still within a Special Flood Hazard Area (the 1-percent-annual chance floodplain). To identify which structures are most at risk (for acquisition) and which structures could be made more resilient (through elevation), Lycoming County was able to rely on depth grids—a FEMA’s Risk Mapping, Analysis, and Planning (Risk MAP) Product developed from highly accurate Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) topographic data obtained by the State. To analyze the effort needed to mitigate the flood risk to various types of structures in the floodplain, the county secured a Silver Jackets grant and is partnering with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), FEMA Region III, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA), the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, and the State National Flood Insurance Program Coordinator to analyze the types of building stock and evaluate various mitigation methods, such as vacating basements, relocating utilities, and elevating the structures. Additional data, such as first floor and lowest adjacent grade elevations, was then collected for structures in the floodplain.
This data and analysis will enable the community to prioritize efforts and build economies of scale into mitigation projects. Using the data from the study, the county hopes to include a rate calculator to determine the full actuarial rate for flood insurance on each home. These tools will help county staff convince property owners that, with the anticipated rate increases and a combination of grants and loans to cover the cost of mitigation, mitigation is in the property owner’s long-term financial interest. The data will also enable communities to make the case that supporting mitigation is a means of building stability for the entire community, not just the parts in the floodplain. They can reinforce the importance of using public/private partnerships by seeking support and assistance from local lending institutions, real estate groups, the local builders association, and the insurance community.
Based on the accurate and reliable data used to convey these messages, local officials became very engaged in the effort, and local banks were tasked to develop a grant loan program for homeowners. The county secured $850,000 in state housing funds to begin this process. This type of effort in the Borough of Muncy and across the floodplains of Lycoming County can be replicated throughout the interior floodplains in the northeast. The Lycoming County data were made available on a public flood portal, where residents can access flood maps and other data at any time and better understand the anticipated impact of a flood event. This site initially garnered roughly 200 visits per day and has grown to 500–700 per day.
By researching available funding sources, partnering with government resources and the private sector, and using Risk MAP products and messaging as a communication tool, Lycoming County plans to offer mitigation as viable option to property owners living in floodplains. For property owners, reducing potential damages after recognizing their risk will save both money and heartache. For communities, recognizing risks and planning accordingly will save resources and build stability.
Risk MAP Goals Advanced
The Risk MAP goals that were advanced through this project included:
- Increasing Awareness
- Achieve Mitigation Action
Quality data matters. Risk MAP analysis and depth grid products provided a more refined floodplain analysis and gave the county an additional tool to explain the mitigation opportunities to property owners. The state’s LiDAR data, which replaced the low-precision and outdated 20-foot-contour topographic data used on the previous flood hazard maps, greatly increased the quality of the flood risk products, and community officials trusted the products and embraced them as “their” maps.
Deputy Director, Lycoming County Planning and Community Development