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James City County will save residents a combined $100,000 in flood insurance costs annually thanks to its efforts to mitigate flood risk.

The National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System reduces flood insurance premiums in localities across the country that undertake floodplain management activities that exceed minimum federal standards.

The program recently recognized James City County for preventing development in areas most at risk of flooding and requiring that new homes and buildings be built at a higher elevation to withstand floods.

The restrictions will now help county residents qualify for a 25% reduction in flood insurance premiums.

“The savings are huge for people,” said Mary-Carson Stiff, a policy director with the Norfolk non-profit Wetlands Watch, who helped the county apply for the flood insurance discount. “James City County is doing a ton to reduce flood risk.”

Overseen by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Community Rating System is meant to incentivize municipalities to increase flood resilience. The program ranks communities in classes depending on the magnitude of their flood management practices. The class ranking determines how much flood insurance premiums should decline.

Localities can move between classes over time if they implement new flood reduction measures. They usually can apply for a new rating every five years.

The system is especially beneficial in Eastern Virginia, a region experiencing increasing flood risk. More intense rainstorms due to climate change are projected to cause worse flooding events. The Hampton Roads region is also expected to see at least 1.5 feet of sea level rise by 2050.

James City County’s floodplain management efforts have helped it improve from Class 7 to Class 5 in the Community Rating System. Darryl Cook, James City’s assistant stormwater director, attributed the higher ranking to the county’s strict regulations on development in its highest flood risk areas.

The county doesn’t allow construction on land within 100 feet of waterways, and it’s designated other areas solely for conservation. Altogether, James City restricts development on about 8,600 acres of flood-prone land.

“They’re open space is no joke,” Stiff said. “They have been one of the more progressive communities in terms of their higher standards… and it’s paying dividends.”

The Community Rating System also awarded the county for its elevation requirements for new homes and buildings. James City mandates that new structures in floodplains be built two feet above FEMA’s minimum flood elevation.

James City’s Class 5 rating is the highest in Virginia. The City of Franklin, which joined Class 9, is the only other Virginia locality that recently applied for a new rating.

Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Hampton, York and Portsmouth have been in Class 7. Chesapeake and Poquoson are in Class 8. Newport News and Suffolk are not on the list of cities that participate.

Stiff said that despite the benefits of the Community Rating System, many Hampton Roads localities underuse it. 

She noted that other cities are doing enough to improve their class rating and secure new flood insurance discounts for residents. However, the process of applying for a new rating and reporting the different ways a community mitigates flood risk is time-consuming.

“There are a lot of communities in this area that do not report all of the things that their community is doing. They just don’t have time,” she said.