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Updated: December 14, 2021 @ 2:33 am
A vehicle makes its way through floodwaters at the intersection of Society Street and Washington Avenue in Charleston, where construction continues on a new luxury apartment complex called The Society at Laurens, during a high tide of 8 feet on Nov. 5, 2021, in Charleston. File/Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

A vehicle makes its way through floodwaters at the intersection of Society Street and Washington Avenue in Charleston, where construction continues on a new luxury apartment complex called The Society at Laurens, during a high tide of 8 feet on Nov. 5, 2021, in Charleston. File/Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is seeking input on how to change flood insurance, an influential program that both sets standards for resilience in building across the country and encourages repeated building in vulnerable areas. 
FEMA’s open call for comments from the public will last until Jan. 27, and participants will have the opportunity to write in and attend a virtual meeting this week. In particular, the agency is looking for feedback on how the program can update its land-use rules to better fit the floods of the future. 
Right now, FEMA’s flood insurance rules and the flood risk maps that underly them have major blind spots around climate change, using historical data that don’t consider future sea level rise and stronger rains. In parts of the country like the Charleston region, where swelling rivers and rising tides can collide with each other, the blind spots are worse because flood maps only consider one or the other.
But FEMA’s call for public input and a recent announcement that the agency is looking at several aspects of the insurance program are hopeful signs, said Joel Scata, a water and climate attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. 
“I think this request for information is an acknowledgement by FEMA (that flood insurance is) not working as a program should,” he said. 
Flood insurance was originally meant as a safety net for those caught in disasters that the private market won’t insure, and is required to get a mortgage on many homes in the Lowcountry. But it can serve to trap flood survivors in a cycle of destruction and repair, which The Post and Courier exposed in its 2020 report “Fixed for Failure.” 
At the same time, the flood insurance program has been financially insolvent roughly since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It carried $20.5 billion in debt as of August 2020, according to the Government Accountability Office.
Together with the Association of State Floodplain Managers, NRDC petitioned FEMA earlier this year to reconsider how it regulates development in the communities that are part of the flood insurance program. FEMA accepted that petition, and in asking for public comment now, is starting the process to potentially change the federal rules around the program.
“Right off the bat, we are at a place we haven’t been in 40 years, pretty much, in terms of updating the minimum standards of (flood insurance),” said Chad Berginnis, executive director of the floodplain group. 
Among other rules, flood insurance regulations determine how high a building should be when it’s located in a floodplain. Cities and towns can choose to add on extra height to get a break on their insurance premiums, but advocates are hoping that FEMA will make the additional height standard nationally, to acknowledge that floods are worsening over time, Scata said. 
Another nonprofit, Anthropocene Alliance, would like to see building discarded altogether in 100-year-storm floodplains, said co-founder Stephen Eisenman. He said that height rules can have unintended consequences, such as when houses are lifted by piling dirt on home lots — creating mounds that push more floodwaters into older developments.
FEMA is also considering a national standard that would dictate what homeowners have to say about their flood histories when selling their houses. That would be a major step because right now each state sets its own rules. South Carolina dictates that sellers have to disclose any FEMA claims they’ve made, a change that came after The Post and Courier’s reporting, but not how bad the damage was.
Eisenman’s group is right now running a “Flood FEMA” campaign, encouraging flood survivors to inundate agency officials with their personal stories. But the point isn’t just to pressure officials, he said. 
“I think (FEMA) wants to make these changes,” Eisenman said. “Some of them may worry developers or politicians allied with local developers, and (the agency) needs to know the public supports them.”
Information on how to participate in FEMA’s Dec. 15 online meeting is available at . Those who wish to write in with comments can do so at .
Reach Chloe Johnson at 843-735-9985. Follow her on Twitter @_ChloeAJ.
Chloe Johnson covers the coastal environment and climate change for the Post and Courier. She’s always looking for a good excuse to hop on a boat.
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