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Adhering to Floodplain Management Practices Saves Business

ESTES PARK, CO – As floodwaters poured into nearby homes and businesses, Estes Park realtor Bret Freedman’s office building remained dry.

“I was in my building watching the floodwaters engulf the building across from me,” said Freedman. “Several of the cabins that I had sold further down the street also were flooded. But me, I was high and dry.”

The September 2013 flood tested the value of the mitigation measures that were incorporated in the construction of Freedman’s dream building. He said Big Thompson River floodwaters rose to the graded slope of the property, his detention pond reached maximum capacity, and buildings near his – the same buildings had flooded during the past three spring runoffs –were destroyed.

Freedman’s building stayed high and dry because he had followed the advice of his local floodplain manager to elevate his business more than the recommended Base Flood Elevation. Raising the structure added freeboard—the length of watertight surface between a given water level and the lowest possible entry point during flooding.

“All of that stuff was new to me and it sounded very expensive,” said Freedman, broker/owner of Estes Valley 8z Real Estate. “I didn’t really want to do it. But my wife Jan said, ‘You either have to put your trust in this town or get out.’ So I listened to her.”

The building’s original design, created by Jan Freedman, did not include freeboard.

A local builder informed them that the structure she envisioned—one they had always dreamed of owning—was going to be at risk because of its proposed proximity to the Big Thompson River.

They consulted Will Birchfield, floodplain manager in Estes Park, who said that the city had no freeboard requirements.

“However,” Birchfield said, “We do recommend that structures be built to exceed our base flood elevation of 7,548.6 feet above sea level by at least one and a half feet”—especially for structures so near the Big Thompson, a river with a long history of overflowing its banks. Freedman met with an engineer to determine how to fulfill the general construction requirements.

An elevation certificate was secured documenting the building’s elevation. The National Flood Insurance Program relies on the elevation certificate to verify the elevation and other characteristics of a structure to determine an actuarially sound flood insurance rate. This certificate allows the community to stay in compliance with community floodplain management standards.

“I was told that I needed to bring in dirt and more dirt,” Freedman said. “I had to have a compaction test done. I had to put in a detention pond. I didn’t realize that we had to do any of this. I just thought I could hire a builder and just construct the building.”

Construction on the 2,500 square foot office building began in April 2008. When it was completed in June 2009, the project cost approximately $800,000 including about $100,000 to bring in dirt and build a retention pond. Freedman said if he and his wife had lost the building, he estimated they would have lost about $1 million.

Elevating a home or business may be one of the best ways to protect the building, family members and their possessions. The advantages of elevating include:

  • Reducing the flood risk to the home or business and its contents
  • Eliminating the need to move vulnerable contents to areas above the water level during a flood;
  • Reducing the physical, financial and emotional strain that accompanies floods, and
  • Decreasing flood insurance premiums by reducing the risk to a property.

For additional information, visit: http://www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite/TownofEstesPark/CBON/1251609611960, http://www.floodsmart.gov and https://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/IS/IS394A/IS%20394A_Complete.pdf

Last updated June 3, 2020