Horry County’s new flood maps place more Bucksport and Socastee properties in high-risk zones, county officials said.
The preliminary flood maps, which were prepared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR), were published on the county’s website (click here for maps) this week. However, the formal approval process might take until 2020.
“An exact schedule to complete all these steps is not possible to determine at this time,” county spokeswoman Kelly Moore said via email. “But it appears that it will take between 6 and 12 months before these new maps can become official.”
Once FEMA formally announces the publication of the maps, there’s a 90-day appeal period, said Maria Cox Lamm, state coordinator for DNR’s flood mitigation program. FEMA then can review any appeals before making its final determination on the design of the zones. After that, Horry County Council has six months to adopt the maps.
“The revised preliminary map panels have been released and all the impacted communities have a copy of them,” Lamm said via email.
Last year, in the wake of Hurricane Florence’s flood, county officials said they expected thousands of Horry properties would be included in the high-risk zones. However, the number of parcels in those zones actually declined, county officials said.
Moore stressed that more properties were added in specific areas near the Intracoastal Waterway and the Waccamaw River (i.e. Bucksport and Socastee). However, she said the maps appear to show a reduced flood elevation along the coast.
“There’s small parcels, multi-family condos, and each of those units counts as a separate parcel,” she said. “So that drives down the number a little bit.”
The flood maps are important because people who live in high risk zones must purchase flood insurance if they have a mortgage from a federally regulated lender.
Standard homeowners insurance policies don’t cover flood damage.
FEMA released updated flood maps in 2015, but county officials questioned their accuracy. The maps presented at that time showed about 18,000 properties being added to the county’s high-risk flood zones.
After the 2015 maps were released, county officials criticized them as unrealistic and appealed the proposal. They said it would be unfair to force people to purchase flood insurance if they didn’t need it. The county also hired a consultant who presented models showing lower projected flooding levels along the Intracoastal Waterway and on the Waccamaw River near Bucksport.
FEMA then agreed to reassess the maps.
That was before Florence flooded about 2,000 homes in Horry County in 2018. Many of those homes were not in flood zones. Of the homes outside the zones that flooded, about 90 percent of them did not have flood coverage, according to county estimates.
Flood data from Florence — and even from Hurricane Matthew in 2016 — did not factor into the way the latest maps were drawn, DNR's Lamm said. But those disasters did persuade local officials to say they would likely accept the revised federal flood maps without another protest.
“We don’t have any more to argue against,” Tom Garigen, the county’s stormwater manager, said last year. “You’ve got to have a valid argument. You can’t just say, ‘Well, we think it’s too high.’”
This week, Garigen acknowledged that he was surprised to see how many properties in Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach had been removed from high-risk flood zones. He even looked at the total number of parcels with structures and that number had dropped from 53,966 in the current zones to 48,924 in the proposed flood maps.
“Why? I don’t know," Garigen said. "That’s a surge modeling issue.”
Lamm did not respond to questions about the coastal flood elevation changes in the new maps.
Garigen did stress that more properties on the southern Waccamaw and along the Intracoastal Waterway have been added to the high-risk zones.
“That’s the area they determined that the Pee Dee River had so much influence,” Garigen said. “That’s forcing these flood elevations higher.”
For many residents, the maps are just confirmation of what they already knew — this is a low-lying area.
Howard Richardson and his mother built houses on Conway’s Long Avenue Extension last year, but they didn’t have time to enjoy them.
“We were flooded out,” he said. “We were a week from moving in. At that point, we had no choice but to go back in, rip everything out, start back over and move in.”
Richardson described his ordeal to Horry County Council Tuesday as he urged them to make stormwater improvements to the ditches connected to Conway's swamps. During Hurricane Dorian earlier this month, he again had water in his yard and part of Long Avenue Extension was closed because of flooding.
“My situation has not gotten worked out yet,” he said. “I do have flood insurance now, but every time it rains or we have a named storm that’s out in the ocean, I think about not only myself but my mother. What am I going to get this time?”