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West Virginia and natural disasters go hand in hand. From 1954 to the present, $595,471,237 spanning 40 disasters (Appendix A) has been spent in West Virginia recovering from natural disasters. The terrain is mountainous throughout the state creating ideal conditions for flash flooding. Development in the floodplain and encroachment into natural pond areas has increased the hazard to human life and property. Mitigation is the conscious act of spending money now to lessen the impact of disasters in the future. From 1995 to the present, Federal and State funding has gone to further this effort in a variety of ways. Everything from protective measures to acquisition and deed restriction of repetitive loss structures has been done. To date, the mitigation efforts have spent $
(appendix B) towards the goal of reducing the effects of flooding. Combined with laws regulating development in the floodplain and flood insurance requirements for flood prone structures, Mitigation continues to be a great success in West Virginia. For example, the federally declared disaster that happened on May 1, 2007 had extraordinary results. Preliminary damage assessments indicated that approximately 70-100 structures would have been flooded with significant damage had mitigation efforts not been preformed. Indications are strong that an Individual Assistance declaration was avoided by Mitigation on that disaster.
Constant disaster recovery and the toll it takes on communities, states, and the federal governments were, and remains, the driving force behind Mitigation. West Virginia's main hazard was quickly identified as flooding due to the rugged terrain. The first step needed to address the problem was to identify the hazard. An aggressive effort was implemented to identify flood areas and agree on a political boundary where the hazard was great enough to require the property owner protect their property with insurance. The boundary that was agreed upon was the 1% annual chance of flooding referred to as the “100 year floodplain”. A national mapping effort was started to define the 100 year boundary and maps were issued to communities called Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM). Using the FIRM, communities and financial institutions can determine if the structure faces flooding hazard and make the determination if flood insurance is required. A carrot and a stick approach were developed to encourage communities to use the FIRM. To be considered eligible to receive flood insurance, a federally run program, communities were required to enact ordinances that restricts development in the 100 year flood zone and to address “substantially damaged” existing structures to bring them into compliance with the ordinance requirements. Communities that do not enforce this ordinance are considered non-complaint and face sanctions such as removal from the National Flood Insurance Program meaning that no resident of such a community can receive flood insurance coverage. With new construction restricted, it was time to address structures that were constructed before the flood hazard was identified. These structures are referred to as preFIRM. Mitigation efforts in West Virginia are designed to address these structures.
Forms of Mitigation
Mitigation can take many forms each with varying degrees of effectiveness, and permanence. The overall goal should always be a reduction in exposure to hazards and a savings of life and property. The major forms of mitigation West Virginia has engaged in include but are not limited to:
Acquisition / Demolition
Acquisition / demolition is the act of acquiring a flood prone structure and demolishing the structure. The resulting vacant land is then deed restricted leaving it in an “open space” condition. This is the most permanent solution to the problem because it literally prevents anyone from ever building on that property forever. The community remains the owner of that property forever and must certify every three years that it remains in the state it was left in at the completion of the project. The drawback of this form of mitigation is the loss of tax revenue for that property as well as possible socio-economic impacts that can be detrimental especially to struggling small communities.
Elevation is the act of raising a structure out of the flooding hazard while ensuring the lower part of the structure will allow for the unobstructed flow of water. This form of mitigation has many positive benefits as well as many risks. First, the structure must be sound enough to withstand the forces that elevating it can induce. As a structure gets flooded more often, the soundness of the support structures comes into question. Therefore, an elevation project MUST have a structural engineering survey completed before the project can be submitted. There are maintenance costs associated with elevated structures as well that must be considered. The benefits to an elevation project to smaller communities is it leaves homes intact as well as tax revenues and avoids the socio-economic impacts an acquisition / demolition project has associated with it. The costs are the property owner is still in harms way for floods exceeding the elevation level as well as rescue workers who will then have to risk their lives rescuing the home owners. Also, it is very hard to enforce the resulting non-conversion agreement every elevation property has attached to their deed. In short, this is not a permanent solution to major flooding but can be one for nuisance “small” floods.
Relocation is the act of physically moving a structure out of the hazard area. Like acquisition / demolition, relocation is a permanent solution to a flooding problem as the resulting land becomes deed restricted. But, just like elevation, the structure has to be sound enough to withstand the forces lifting and moving it to another location thus requiring the engineering survey. Further, the property owner MUST own land within 50 miles of the original location that is fully outside of the special flood hazard area.
Flood-proofing (both wet and dry)
Flood-proofing is the act of making a structure more resistant to the effects of flooding. It usually involves extensive engineering studies to prove cost effectiveness and has a very low useful life cycle with very high required maintenance costs. Further, flood-proofing projects are NOT allowed for residential structures as it totally leaves people in harms way and has the potential to leave home owners without safe and sanitary housing for extensive periods of time. There are two types of flood-proofing. Wet flood-proofing simply means that the free flow of water will be unhindered while dry flood-proofing is the act of using barriers or channels to divert the flow of water around a structure.
Structural construction barriers (flood walls, locks and dams, levies, etc.)
Structural construction barriers are beyond the scope of the Mitigation and Recovery section and are not discussed or funded from our offices. They usually cost in the millions of dollars and require years of study to evaluate their effectiveness. They also have extremely high maintenance costs associated with them and legal issues abound surrounding them. Structural construction barriers are solely the domain of the Corps of Engineers. There are other forms of mitigation, but the above represent the most popular activities.
Mitigation in Disasters
HMGP Admin Plan and Approval 4210-DR-WV.pdf
HMGP Admin Plan and Approval 4219-DR-WV.pdf
HMGP Admin Plan and Approval 4220-DR-WV.pdf
HMGP Admin Plan and Approval 4221-DR-WV.pdf
FEMA-4219-DR-WV Draft Water Crossing Report.pdf
Private Water Crossings Considerations Before You Build.pdf
Disaster cost from 1954 to 2004
Mitigation funding 1995 to 2004