New Proposal Would Expand Floodplain and Require Green Infrastructure for FEMA Federally Funded Construction
AGC Shares Concerns Regarding Agency’s Approach to Flood Risk Management
On Oct. 21, AGC expressed concerns with a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) proposal to update its Floodplain Management and Protection of Wetlands regulations. FEMA is undergoing this effort to align with the 2015 Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, which AGC also commented on last year. FEMA’s proposal would expand the floodplain and raise costs for construction that uses FEMA federal funds. It would also add vague requirements to incorporate “green infrastructure” approaches.
The 2015 Standard allows agencies to establish the floodplain using any of three approaches. This allowance could expand the floodplain, impact other regulatory programs, and create a confusing patchwork of floodplain methodologies across agencies. In its comments, AGC reiterated its ongoing concerns regarding the potential impact that expanding the floodplain could have on other regulatory programs, such as the Endangered Species Act. In addition, different methods for establishing the floodplain can complicate projects where multiple agencies have to work together during the planning and permitting process, such as with projects that fall under the National Environmental Policy Act, AGC’s comments explain.
FEMA’s Proposed Approach for Establishing the Floodplain
As the first agency to attempt to implement the 2015 Standard, instead of trying to reduce possible uncertainty and set a clear path for other agencies to follow, FEMA would add to the confusion by offering multiple methods for establishing the floodplain. First, FEMA proposes to use the Freeboard Value Approach (FVA) for non-critical actions, which relies on raising the elevation. Even though the Climate-Informed Science Approach (CISA) is the preferred approach per the Standard, FEMA would use CISA to define a floodplain only for critical actionsin cases where the CISA elevation is higher than the elevation established under the FVA. (A ‘‘critical action’’ is any activity for which even a slight chance of flooding would be too great.) AGC expressed its concern with the CISA approach in coalition comments submitted last year (on the proposed guidance for federal agencies to implement the Standard; included as an attachment in AGC’s Oct. 21st comment letter), saying that it “lacks regulatory certainty” without extensive guidelines for the “length of the data series, the quality of the data, and the degrees of uncertainty determined acceptable.”
Second, AGC also has concerns with FEMA’s proposed “elevation” approach because it would lead, in many cases, to a larger floodplain than the historical definition. (The historical definition would continue to apply for actions that do not meet the definition of a FEMA federally funded project.) The “elevation” approach would add costs to rebuilding activities not only because of additional materials and labor, but also because more projects in the (potentially expanded) floodplain would need to be designed to a higher vertical elevation. The cost of raising vertical structures can be prohibitive, and would be even more so if the requirement is applied to horizontal construction such as roads --- which is at this moment unclear.
AGC is encouraged that FEMA decided against using an approach reliant on incomplete climate science data to establish the floodplain for FEMA federally funded projects
FEMA’s Proposed Green Infrastructure Approach
Another unclear yet noteworthy change is the proposed requirement to use “nature-based” or “green infrastructure” approaches in the development of alternatives or mitigation for Federal actions in the floodplain where possible. FEMA’s proposal contains very little detail on this requirement with little direction on how to define a nature-based approach nor what the agency intends by “where possible.” Green infrastructure can mean vastly differing strategies ranging from rain gardens to constructed wetlands, with many points in between, and vastly differing costs. Green infrastructure may help reduce localized runoff from the roofs and sidewalks on a property but are more suited as a strategy to manage runoff from normal rainfall events. AGC pointed out that many of these strategies would be ineffective against a storm surge or flooding. In addition, green infrastructure requires upkeep to maintain any of its effectiveness. Without further details on the requirement, AGC urged FEMA to remove it from the proposal.
FEMA estimates that the total additional grants costs as a result of the proposed rule would be between $906,696 and $7.8 million per year for FEMA and between $301,906 and $2.6 million per year for grant recipients due to the increased elevation or flood proofing requirements of FEMA Federally Funded Projects.
For more information, contact Melinda Tomaino at email@example.com.
Return to Top