Flood changes to trickle down in Bristol


Flood insurance premiums may increase for residents and business owners in the Town of Bristol.

Depending on which flood zone a structure is built, premiums will increase between 6- and 19-percent on top of the 25-percent increase dealt to businesses and non-primary homeowners. Policies written or renewed on or after Oct. 1 are affected.

Diane Williamson, director of community development for the Town of Bristol, hopes recent developments within her department will help offset some of those costs.

Last summer, the planning and zoning department began the process of applying for Federal Emergency Management Agency's Community Rating System program. Through this program, municipalities are recognized for several initiatives taken to educate the public, provide outreach and information, as well as the acquisition of open space to deter flooding.

"These are all steps taken to reduce the risk of flood-related damage," Ms. Williamson said.

Municipalities are awarded points based on their efforts in the three aforementioned categories. The Town of Bristol's package was awarded 1,200 points for its efforts, placing it in a category 8 out of 10 categories.

The biggest reward, Ms. Wiliamson said, was the 10 percent savings people will have on their flood insurance premiums.

"I'm not sure we could ever do any better, because the state adopted a new building code, which lowered the wind standards," she said.

Another potential hit to flood insurance premiums will be the approval of FEMA's latest floodplain mapping report of the Town of Bristol.

FEMA released its report last February, which consists of a flood insurance study report and a flood insurance rate map. The report examines the town's flood hazards, flood sources and information on flood protection measures. The map illustrates the flood hazards through flood risk zones.

Information from the entire report is used by the federal government to determine the floodplain development regulations that would apply in each zone, and who must buy flood insurance.

"It's complicated," said Ms. Williamson. "There are going to be a lot of questions that people have."

Though the new maps were unveiled in February, they won't go into effect until May 2014. Right now, the maps are on display at the planning and zoning office for a 90-day public input period. The public is encouraged to view the maps and become familiar with the changes, Ms. Williamson said.

Ms. Williamson's department has posted a guide to understanding the flood maps and flood insurance, which can be found here. To view the maps online, click here

One of the most notable discrepancies to the old flood map is the elevation change along the east and west coastlines of Bristol, said Richard Pimenta, the town's building official.

"It seems as though the west side of Bristol's elevation has been downgraded," he said. "The eastern side, where Roger Williams University is, is increasing."

The last time the maps had been updated was 2006. That year, and in subsequent maps, historical data such as storms, previously recorded flood levels and rain totals were used to determine flood zones and their risk.

Now, with the advent of newer, sophisticated technology, the new map was created using scientific data. The discrepancies between the 2006 map and the 2013 map are largely due to the accuracy of the data, Mr. Pimenta said.

Builders who are looking to build in Bristol should adhere their designs to the newer flood map, despite its not being in effect until the following year.

"If you're planning a project, you should look at the new maps because once completed, they will be rated based on the new map," Ms. Williamson said. "This includes new construction and substantial improvements to a structure, which is over 50 percent of the value of the property."

Those structures that do not take into consideration the elevation guides are subject to a higher flood insurance premium.



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