Reducing Property Loss With Open Spaces
Reducing Property Loss and Flood Insurance Premiums Through Open Space Preservation
Contributed by Debbie Crane, Director of Communications for The Nature Conservancy, North Carolina
When the Conservancy’s Kate Murray visited Dare County Planner Donna Creef, she came to talk about oyster reefs. But the conversation went in a new direction. The eventual result could be a reduced risk of property loss from flooding and savings on flood insurance for Dare County property owners.
Murray unveiled an online mapping tool that helps coastal communities improve their resiliency to large storms. The Coastal Resilience decision support tool, developed by a coalition of public and private parters led by The Nature Conservancy, incorporates a vast amount of spatial mapping data to create maps that show the best ways to use natural solutions such as oyster reefs to make shoreline more resilient to storms.
Creef was interested in the oyster reef work, but she saw bigger potential. She had recently been wrestling with the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System (CRS), a voluntary program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that encourages communities to manage land in a way that reduces the risk of property loss from flooding.
“I was just starting to gear up with CRS,” Creef explains. “I said ‘Kate, if would be so cool if you could use these maps to help us with CRS.’ I really was just throwing it out; I had no idea that they would take it and run with it.”
Run with it, TNC did. In particular Creef was interested in how the tool could help Dare County figure out the best places to preserve open space. Under CRS, the more open space that is preserved, the more points acquired by the county. More points equal a discount on flood insurance.
For low-lying coastal communities such as Dare County, open space preservation is the best risk reduction route. “You look at places such as Charlotte. They have small amounts of flood hazard areas, so they can just pass ordinances to prevent building in a flood hazard area,” says Creef. “But, everything here is a flood hazard area. This tool is helpful in identifying the open spaces that are out there and could be preserved.”
Without the tool, Creef had to result to digging through a variety of data, which takes time. “If you can go to one source instead of having to do hunting and pecking like I was doing, that’s going to be a whole lot easier,” Creef explains. “It is so visual. You can see it on the screen. That kind of illustration works better for me. I’m assuming it works better for everyone else as well.”
So, a conversation about oyster reefs grew to another level. Today, other coastal county planners are contacting Murray and asking her about the status of the project. She’s happy to take the calls and is looking forward to expanding the project to other coastal areas. She’s also pleased that Creef made her think bigger. “This just goes to show you that you might have an idea, but you need to listen. When you really listen and identify a need together, you may get something that is much more fruitful,” says Murray.
Creef is proud to be a project pioneer. “Dare County and Manteo are guinea pigs, but if it works here, then it could benefit all the CRS communities across the country,” she says. “FEMA is promoting flood insurance. That’s why they have developed CRS. If this helps convince people to understand how easy it is to get more points and a discount on their insurance, then that’s a great thing for communities like Dare County and Manteo.”