03/07/10 — County, towns putting last touches on disaster plans

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County, towns putting last touches on disaster plans

By Steve Herring
Published in News on March 7, 2010 1:50 AM

Over the next two months Wayne County and its six smaller municipalities will put the finishing touches on a plan that aims to lessen the impact of natural disasters in the county, most notably flooding.

For example, one of the actions recommended by the plan is to prohibit the development of public and private critical facilities, such as fire stations, within the 100-year and 500-year flood plains. It adds that existing facilities in those flood plains be relocated, if possible, to mitigate potential damages.

This plan is designed to:

* Identify and analyze major hazards that threaten the community

* Give an assessment of local capabilities to implement various mitigation programs and policies

* Identify and prioritize feasible mitigation opportunities.

And over the course of the next two months, public hearings will be held in Mount Olive, Seven Springs, Walnut Creek, Pikeville, Eureka and Fremont on the county's Multi-jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan.

Once they complete their roles in the almost year-long process, the plan will go to the county Planning Board and finally to a public hearing before county commissioners. From there it heads to FEMA and N.C. Emergency Management which can approve it as is or recommend changes.

The final step is approval by commissioners.

The state and FEMA require an update, or at least an evaluation, of the existing plan every five years.

Wayne County's plan was born in the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd and it ensuing historic flooding.

"When we signed the contracts for the (flood plain property) buyouts in 2000 after Floyd, part of it was there would be a Hazard Mitigation Plan prepared and that was the first plan we had to meet those contract obligations," said County Planner Connie Price, whose office is coordinating the planning. "The city (Goldsboro) did the same thing and is preparing its own plan. But each of the towns in the county, it is better for them to have one in the event of a future disaster. It will make it easier for them to get hazard mitigation funds if there are any available."

The state "sort of recommends" for the small towns that they participate with the county, he said.

Seven Springs, which was devastated by the flooding, did not participate in the existing plan.

"The state came down and did their plan for them and they (state) were not going to do that this time, so they choose to participate in our plan," Price said.

Flooding is considered the biggest hazard, although hurricanes, tornadoes, thunder storms and ice storms are concerns as well.

"It (flooding) really only affects a small part of the county, but if it is in your neighborhood and it is your house ...," Price said. "We can have houses affected by flooding and not have the level of flooding we had with Floyd. One thing we did after (Hurricanes) Fran and Floyd when we had the buyouts, we were able to purchase homes and relocate families out of the flood plain. It reduced the threat to the general population in those flood plain areas.

"The next time there is a flood there will not have to be an insurance buyout, or FEMA money spent to buy people out, to provide shelter, or send the National Guard in because the people won't be there."

The review process got under way last June when the Planning Board directed Price to begin work on the program. A steering committee was formed with representatives of the six towns.

The draft plan went before the Planning Board in September. It met with the board's approval and since that time Price has been meeting with the town boards and town planning boards to discuss it.

Price expects that he will take the revised plan back to the Planning Board in May and that commissioners will hold a public hearing around the first of June before sending it on to the state.

"It (process) allows the local government to sit down and look at what are the critical facilities in our towns and what are the risks that we have for various natural disasters," Price said. "Do we have sewer pump stations in the flood plain? Do we have fire stations in the flood plain? If we do, is that going to be a problem if there is a flood?

"We don't know when a tornado is going to come through. You can't really prepare for that. You can prepare for floods. You can maybe for a hurricane based on construction types. We have winds here, but we are not going to have (Hurricane) Katrina type winds here. If we do, I don't want to be talking about what is going on at the coast."

The plan contains 25 action steps, ongoing recommendations that are in the current plan including house elevations and efforts to make the public aware of hazard mitigation.

For example, in Pikeville one recommendation is to raise the finished floor elevation two feet above flood height.

Town board members wanted to know if approving the plan would require the town to add the two feet.

"No," Price said. "They will have to come back at a later date and amend their flood ordinance to make any changes to that. This is just a recommendation on what they should do."

Zoning is another tool to control growth in a flood plain. The ordinance could be used to have flood plains zoned differently such as requiring larger lots that would limit development of flood plains, he said.

For example, along with looking at critical facilities in flood plains, it recommends raising the finished floor elevation requirement to two feet above the base flood elevation. Others encourage more public use of Code Red, the county's emergency warning system; adopting and enforcing the latest model building codes and national wind standards; and encouraging wind resistant construction techniques comparable to those used in coastal regions.

"We didn't look at ice jams, even though this winter we probably could have," Price joked.

Nor does the plan worry about earthquakes and tsunamis. Rather it concentrates on flooding, drought, hurricanes, wind storms, thunder storms and ice storms.

Price said his office encourages towns to send quarterly or annual reminders to residents, possibly with water bills, about having a kit in their houses so that if the power goes off that they can sustain themselves for a couple days.

The coordination between the county and its municipalities just makes sense, Price said.

The coordination is not limited to the town. The county will share the information with Goldsboro and surrounding counties, including emergency management offices in those counties.

Seven Springs is being handled somewhat differently than the other municipalities because it is located "right on the river," Price said.

"One of the goals is to participate in the buyout program to try to get homes out of harm's way, out of the flood plain," he said. "The town of Seven Springs did not want to have that as a goal. They would want to encourage people to elevate their homes -- they want the homes to stay there because if everybody in town participated in the buyout there wouldn't be a Seven Springs anymore. All of it would be vacant property."

Another recommendation is for communities to create voluntary registries of special needs such people who are confined to a wheelchair or who require oxygen.

"We need to make sure that emergency officials know where those people are in town," Price said.

A copy of the draft plan is available on the county Web site, www.waynegov.com and questions may be directed to the Planning Department at 731-1650.