By TRACEY O’NEILL
Special to the Standard
NORTH KINGSTOWN– Although much controversy has recently surrounded the Town of North Kingstown’s National Flood Insurance Plan (NFIP) ranking, the No. 9 rating assigned by FEMA is a measure of the Town’s participation in a nationally ranked program and not directly related to Hurricane Sandy and her untimely visit to the area.
Not to be used as a barometer of the Town’s Emergency Response mechanisms for Sandy or any one particular storm, the valuation, current as of October 1, 2012, is indicative of the municipality’s program standing in the implementation of flood plain management strategies.
Town Manager, Michael Embury, in the wake of Sandy, recently defended the Town against an article printed in USA Today that included the Town’s ranking.
NFIP, administered and managed through FEMA, is a conduit for cities and towns to participate in a nationally-supported plan assisting residents and property owners in flood-prone areas. Although participation is voluntary, municipalities are required to go through a stringent application process and must be approved as members.
The Town of North Kingstown has participated in FEMA’s Community Rating System (CRS) program since 1993. One of only three communities in the state who are participants in the plan, the Town’s present ranking of nine, is based on an earned points calculation determined by FEMA through CRS. The ranking allows all residents who purchase flood insurance for homes and businesses to receive a five-percent premium discount. The highest discount available is 45 percent, earned with a CRS ranking of one.
Narragansett and Middletown, Rhode Island’s two other participants. are both ranked at eight, with a 10-percent discount to property owners purchasing flood insurance. As every community has unique characteristics, needs and budgetary constraints, rankings are difficult to gauge based on a number system.
“Not all communities are interested in participating,” RIEMA Flood Plain Coordinator, Michelle F. Burnett said. “Based on needs and budgets, some communities may not consider flood plain management a high priority.”
Rankings are assigned after FEMA and state-level evaluators (RIEMA in Rhode Island), establish active participation and cooperative effort by a municipality in attaining successful completion of some or all of 18 predetermined activities. Each activity is designed with the goal of minimizing community exposure to floods while encouraging sound flood plain management practices. Points are awarded based on achievements and premium discounts to residents increase with the attainment of increased points.
Although North Kingstown is at the bottom of the short list of communities in Rhode Island that participate in the program, the ranking should not be seen as a negative.
“North Kingstown applied to participate in a program that has a very stringent and thorough application process,” explained AnneMarie Beardsworth, Public Information Officer at RIEMA. “Each community has to have certain criteria in place to be considered. They have to have an approved Hazard Mitigation Plan and meet the program criteria.”
The Town’s participation is in the program is up for field verification and review in December. Conducted by an outside auditor, the review includes site visits, document, mapping and planning evaluations.
North Kingstown has historically earned points in several key areas including flood plain mapping, elevation certificates, preserving open space, flood data maintenance, providing flood insurance information and participating in higher regulatory standards.
Burnett, who also serves as Chair for the Rhode Island Chapter of the Association of Flood Plain Managers (ASFPM), welcomes more municipalities to apply for membership in the plan.
“I would like to see participation in the state double with more coastal communities participating,” said Burnett. “Although the application process seems daunting, once the initial steps are taken and the municipality is approved, the process is absorbed easily into the system. It only takes one person to sink their teeth in and get the process underway.”
As for the Town’s preparedness for storms and coastal flooding, Embury was clear.
“North Kingstown is well prepared, responds in a manner reflected in our plan and beyond and we are well within or above the regulatory requirements of all agencies,” he said.