South Bethany hosts flood damage and insurance workshop

What could happen to the sea in 50 years? No one can know for sure, but South Bethany residents got tips on planning for sea-level rise at a pair of workshops on Sept. 25 and 26.

To fulfill requirements of a recent grant, the Town’s Sea Level Rise & Storm Surge Committee hosted public outreach meetings on flood damage mitigation and insurance costs. The grant is to study how to make the town more resilient to sea-level rise.

“We’re trying to make the town more resilient. … You have to plan for these events that might happen,” Councilman and committee chair George Junkin said.

Anchor QEA has recommend that South Bethany study a 50-year timeline, in which the sea level may rise by anywhere from 0.7 to 1.7 feet. That is consistent with data collected from tide gauges in the Indian River Inlet, Fenwick Island, South Bethany, Lewes and Ocean City, Md.

Residents quipped that they won’t be around in 50 years, “But our grandchildren will be,” Junkin said.

“The best thing you can do to protect your house is to build higher,” he emphasized.

Everyone must build to the minimum height required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), but anything above that is considered “freeboard.”

FEMA uses Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) to tell people the flood risks they must anticipate when building. But that level “is based on historical data, not based on sea-level rise projections,” said Junkin, explaining the various flood zones.

He reminded those in attendance that FEMA is preparing to introduce a new South Bethany FIRM, which could go into effect as early as October of 2016. Other local towns have already had new FIRMs put in place.

Flood-risk information for any property in Sussex County can be viewed online at, including comparisons of South Bethany’s “before” and “after” maps.

Properties located in two different floodplains will be subject to the more stringent rules of the two. However, NFIP rates may be preserved and even passed on to the next homeowner, if a person can prove the house was built to the rules of that time.

While living space must be above the base flood elevation (BFE), certain household fixtures can be placed on the ground floor and still be covered by flood insurance. South Bethany residents and property owners can look up FEMA documents on their own or contact South Bethany Code Enforcement Constable Joe Hinks for details.

Insurance costs are generally rising, as the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) repays loans to the U.S. Treasury. Properties are getting rate increases, plus flat fees added to every household (more for second homes). Property owners were told they should talk to their insurance agents about options to save money (such as raising the house, increasing the deductible and more).

“I didn’t know this stuff when I built my house in 2001,” Junkin said. “That’s why we’re trying to educate the public.”

The Town of South Bethany itself has begun identifying weak spots. It recently mapped the location of all streets, bulkheads, storm drains and electrical transformers (some of which shorted out while underwater during Hurricane Sandy).

The presentation was required by a federal grant South Bethany received through Delaware Coastal Programs and the Office for Coastal Management (OCM), National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Commerce.