Hernando commission returns to less-stringent flood damage rule

Areas of eastern Hernando County along the Withlacoochee River were flooded in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in September 2017. 
Courtesy Jay Rowden
Areas of eastern Hernando County along the Withlacoochee River were flooded in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in September 2017. Courtesy Jay Rowden
Published February 14
Updated February 14

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County residents who have endured waterlogged homes, streets and neighborhoods from tropical storms in the past two years, have had a growing fear that a bigger storm loomed over a damage-assessment rule approved by the County Commission in 2014.

The rule said that cumulative flood damage over five years — even from multiple events — that added up to 50 percent of the value of a home would require the homeowner to tear it down and rebuild it to current flood standards. That means building homes up on stilts and other improvements. The rule also added in home improvements and repairs from non-flooding events.

For the last several weeks, residents in coastal Hernando and along the Withlacoochee River have gathered in town hall meetings and filled up social media, protesting the county’s five-year cumulative rule that could cost some their homes.

On Tuesday, they jammed standing-room-only into the County Commission chambers, waving signs saying, "Save Our Homes, End Cumulative." They hoped to convince the board to change the rule. As it turned out, it wasn’t that big a battle, and it didn’t take a barrage of public comments at the microphone.

Commissioners opened the discussion by saying they heard their constituents and were turning back the rule to what it had been before, that only when flood damage from a single event caused more than 50 percent damage to the home would it have to be torn down and rebuilt.

The issue came to light when Hernando Beach residents Steve and Patricia Barton urged the commission to reconsider their cumulative rule in December.

"We’re all human,’’ said Commissioner Wayne Dukes, who lives in Hernando Beach and was on the commission that approved the more stringent damage assessments.

He said when he approved the new standard in 2014, he thought it would give the community more points in the system that sets up flood insurance rates.

"At the time,’’ he said, "it seemed like the logical thing to do.’’

Commissioner Nick Nicholson said he met with the Bartons and that research showed going back to the old rules would not have a negative impact on the flood insurance rating. Residents also have talked about other ways to raise points to help the community’s flood ratings, he said.

Nicholson said he hadn’t realized that damage such as a lightning strike or a fire would have counted toward the 50 percent damage calculation and could cost someone their house.

"I hadn’t thought about that,’’ he said.

Commissioner John Allocco, who was not on the board in 2014, said he didn’t favor seeing the commission push things like the five-year cumulative rule through quickly because all the implications might not be known.

"I apologize to the coastal communities," Allocco said. "We have to do a better job communicating to you.’’

The board wasn’t rolling back the regulation because the room was packed with people, he said. "We’re doing it because it’s the right thing for your community.’’

Commission Chairman Steve Champion held up a large stack of citizen comment cards people fill out when they want to talk at a commission meeting, noting he’s never seen a larger batch. He told them they didn’t need to speak, because the commission was about to do what they wanted.

When the board voted unanimously to return to the one-event damage rule, the audience clapped loudly. The vote doesn’t finalize the change. Several public hearings will take place to formalize the commission’s decision.

County Administrator Len Sossamon told the crowd those hearings were necessary, but that citizens didn’t need to come back because commissioners were clear about what they wanted.

"Thanks to each and every one of you,’’ said Kathy Frase, president of the Hernando Beach Property Owners Association.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

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