Northam signs order creating new flood protections

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RICHMOND, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- A new executive order creates the strongest flood protections for state-owned properties in the country.

Governor Ralph Northam signed the order this week as a way for the Commonwealth to address climate change.

According to a release, the order creates the Virginia Flood Risk Management Standard to improve flood protection in flood-prone areas across the Commonwealth and offering further encouragement for the resilient construction of state buildings.

The “freeboard” standard increases the protection of state-owned buildings in coastal and river floodplains by incorporating sea level rise projects from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It requires that state-owned buildings be build to certain elevation standards to protect them from flooding, and these new standards will apply to all state-owned buildings that are authorized for construction after Jan. 1, 2021.

“It is simply common sense to protect against the risk of flooding, because climate change is driving sea levels higher and making storms more intense,” said Northam. “Flooding remains the most common and costliest natural disaster in Virginia and in the United States, and our state government is getting prepared. These standards will protect taxpayers by establishing critical protections for new state-owned property.”

The new state standard applies to flood-prone areas across Virginia and it continues an exiting prohibition against state-owned buildings being developed in flood-prone areas without a variance.

If a variance is granted, the new building will need to be built to the new standard to prepare for future sea level rise conditions.

Under the new standard, projections include “sea level rise inundation areas” on top of the “flood hazard areas” that are currently mapped by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

This executive order says state development in these areas must be elevated to a point that will minimize flood risk from tidal flooding, whether it's caused by sea level rise, rain or both.

There are different elevation requirements for buildings in areas that are mapped floodplains and that can be impacted by sea level rise inundation, areas that will be affected by sea level rise inundation only, areas in coastal mapped floodplains, and areas in riverine mapped floodplains. There are no elevation standards that will be applied outside of flood-prone areas.

This new standard stems from another executive order that Northam signed last year, which directed his Cabinet to develop this new policy and other actions to increase Virginia's resilience to sea level rise and other natural hazards.

The release says this year's executive order also creates a workgroup to establish state-level National Flood Insurance Program complaint requirements for all development activities by state agencies on state-owned property.

The Virginia Flood Risk Management Standard will be part of those requirements, with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation acting as the lead agency in coordinating the implementation of the insurance program.

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