One foot or two?

Published 10:49 am Friday, January 18, 2013

GATESVILLE – One foot or two?

Those lengths of measurement were debated here at the Jan. 3 meeting of the Gates County Board of Commissioners where the issue of a text amendment to the county’s Flood Damage Ordinance was on the agenda.

It appeared that the commissioners were set to move forward with adopting the change, but were delayed due to FEMA requiring county officials to tweak the wording.

“I got a phone call back from FEMA’s Flood Plain Mapping Department. They advised further adjustments are needed for clarity to the amendment to meet FEMA requirements,” said Gates County Planning Director Morgan Jethro.

Interim County Manager Kenneth Windley said the board could proceed with the advertised public hearing on the text amendment and continue it at the next scheduled commissioners’ meeting (6 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 23) where FEMA’s input into the clarification will be included in the final document.

“I think anytime we’re conducting public hearings we need to give the public the opportunity to be here,” stressed Commissioner Johnny Hora who has previously promoted having commissioner meetings in the evening hours. “We need to have these public hearings at night where more people, especially those who work for a living, can attend and have the opportunity to speak and express their opinion.”

“Concerning this amendment and the flooding storms we’ve had in the past, wasn’t North Carolina the pilot program for re-doing these (flood plain) maps,” asked Commissioner Linda Hofler.

“Yes, mam, North Carolina was the pilot program,” Jethro responded. “Our state has gone leaps and bounds above other states with our flood plain mapping program and having these maps online.”

Jethro said the issue at hand concerned the county’s “freeboard” level was at two feet where one foot was noted in most all other counties across the state, including the coastal counties of Currituck and Dare.

Freeboard, according to Jethro, is the extra requirement above Base Flood Elevations (BFE).

“Say if the base elevation is four feet, then we (the county) would require an extra two feet elevation on top of that,” Jethro said. “Two extra feet here in Gates County is ridiculous. One foot will make is easier for our citizens to deal with.”

Jethro said there are a “couple of other tweaks” that need to be made to the ordinance to make it conforming to FEMA regulations.

Answering another question from Hofler, Jethro said it’s at the discretion of each county to set their freeboard number.

“Right now two feet is our freeboard; I’m not sure how we arrived at that measurement; I think it’s overkill,” Jethro said. “It’s part of our floodplain development ordinance; it’s our option as a county to have further flood protection if we so choose.”

Hofler said her research into the matter was that the BFE takes over if an area is mapped and that Gates County was mapped (for flood plain).

“The BFE is in place; this is two feet above the BFE,” said interim Windley. “What the Planning Board suggests is that we only go one foot above the BFE, not two feet. At two feet all that does is drive up the cost of a project.”

“Is this a federal regulation,” asked Commissioner Johnny Hora.

“Yes, it is a federal regulation to go to at least a BFE; it’s the county’s option to above that, to one foot, two foot, or however high they want to go,” noted Windley. “That’s why the county has a Flood Management Ordinance to go above the minimum the BFE. There are one or two counties that have a zero BFE. The majority have a one-foot BFE.”

Three local citizens spoke at the public hearing.

“Where is the document that says we must have two foot,” asked Chuck Brothers, a copy of which was handed to him by Jethro. She added that the information is on the county’s website.

Perry Eure, representing Eure Baptist Church, implored the commissioners to move forward with the text amendment.

“We have tried to start building our social hall (at the church) since last March and it’s been one thing after another; it’s been dragging along,” Eure stated. “The drawings, the setback requirements, we’ve overcome those. I thought we would take care of this (text amendment) today, but it seems like there will be another delay.

“All we want to do is get the (BFE) changed from two foot to one foot, which seems like a simple matter,” he added. “I don’t understand why ya’ll can’t vote and say you have one foot. We want to get something started and we can’t even get a building permit because of this one issue.”

“Mr. Eure is like me, sometimes we get irritated with the slow process,” said Earl Rountree. “The one foot is a simple matter. It should have been one foot a long time ago. To change these things all you do is raise your hand (to vote) and put it on the record. I sure hope when you bring this back up at the night meeting that you take care of this.”

“I don’t expect there will be a flood over there where they (Eure Baptist) wants to build their fellowship hall,” said Commission Vice Chairman Jack Owens. “It’s unfortunate that they’re caught in this delay, but when you deal with a federal program we don’t have the ability to rewrite FEMA’s rules; we can’t frame every sentence the way we want, it has to be approved by FEMA. When we’re putting these changes in our ordinance we have to think about everyone in our county.”

Public comments will be taken again on this issue at the Jan. 23 night meeting, after which the commissioners can take action on the text amendment.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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