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Frequently Asked Questions - Flooding

How do I know whether my property is in special flood hazard area?

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What are the building standards for Special Flood Hazard Areas?

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Can I build a new home or other structure in a Special Flood Hazard Area?

There are two ways that permits can be granted for building a home in Special Flood Hazard Area in unincorporated Thurston County. An approval to replace an existing manufactured home with another of a similar size and location is allowed outright by the Thurston County Critical Areas Ordinance. If you want to build a conventional frame home or other structure, you will need to go through the Reasonable Use Exception Process before you can get a building permit.

Hint: When you submit your building permit application, you will be charged an application fee; so, it makes sense to get a Reasonable Use Exception first to make sure that you can actually build on the property.  Call one of our plan reviwers to get more advice (see contact information below).

My property is in a special flood hazard area.  Can I make improvements to my existing house?

Yes, but certain conditions apply, depending on whether the improvements are due to a natural disaster or are discretionary, and whether they equal or exceed 50% of the fair market value before any renovation occurred. These conditions are set by FEMA.

  • Existing structures / natural disasters: In the case of a natural disaster, buildings that are already located within a floodplain may be repaired or replaced -- provided the structure stays within the existing footprint. If the construction work involves replacing 50% or more of the structure, it is treated as a new structure and the construction work must comply with the Building Standards in Special Flood Hazard Areas. (The 50% threshold is a FEMA requirement: It is based on the fair market value prior to the damage or reconstruction occurring.

    For example: If the market value of your home is found to be $100,000 and the repairs are estimated to cost $35,000 then the cost of repairs would be less than 50% of the market value of your home, therefore, you could continue with the repair of your home. However, if the market value of your home is $100,000 and the repair is estimated to cost $60,000 then the repair cost would exceed 50% of the market value of your home. If this is the case, the base flood elevation or BFE would have to be determined and if your lowest floor of your home is not at least 2-feet above the BFE you could not repair your home without first raising the lowest floor 2-feet above the base flood elevation. This is a requirement of both FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program to help prevent future flooding to structures in a special flood hazard area.

  • Existing structures/ discretionary restoration or rebuilding, not due to natural disasters -- Property owners may restore/rebuild existing structures in a floodplain for reasons other than a natural disaster -- provided the work occurs within the existing footprint and is less than 50% the structure.  Any discretionary work that involves restoring or rebuilding  50% or more of the structure is treated as a new structure which -- in effect -- means that the work must occur outside the floodplain per Thurston County's Critical Areas Ordinance. (The 50% threshold is a FEMA requirement: It is based on the fair market value prior to the damage or reconstuction occurring.) 
  • New construction is prohibited altogether within floodways (per FEMA), in flood plains (per the Thurston County Critical Areas Ordinance), and in areas that experience high groundwater flooding (Thurston County Critical Areas Ordinance.)

 

How do I get information on flood elevation certificates?

Please visit our webage on flood elevation certificates for an answer to this question.

What are the buffers along a river or high groundwater area?

In high groundwater areas, there is a setback of 50 feet from the area that experiences open water.  Along rivers, and creeks, buffers vary depending upon the nature of the water body (for example, whether it is a fish-bearing stream). Buffers are set by Thurston County's Critical Areas Ordinance and Shoreline Master Program.

How do I know  to buy Flood Insurance?

You do not need to be in a Special Flood Hazard Area to purchase flood insurance. Please visit the National Flood Insurance Program's website, FloodSmart.gov, for flood insurance information.

Contact Us

For questions about Special Flood Hazard Areas, contact Tim Rubert at 754-3355 ext. 6647 or e-mail  rubert@co.thurston.wa.us.

 

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