Despite the fact that it’s a low-lying peninsula surrounded on three sides by water, Pinellas County is one of just two communities in Florida to achieve a Class 3 rating from the National Flood Insurance Program.
On Tuesday, county officials announced that Pinellas earned an improved Community Rating System (CRS) rating from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The move up the rankings will provide unincorporated Pinellas County property owners with up to a 35% discount on flood insurance premiums. The savings will begin Oct. 1.
According to the announcement, a CRS Class 3 is the highest rating a Florida community has ever achieved. Not only does the ranking tie Pinellas with Ocala (Marion County) for best in the state, but it also puts the county in the top 1% of CRS areas for the entire nation. Lisa Foster, Floodplain Administrator for Pinellas County, told the Catalyst that between 1,500 and 1,700 communities around the country participate in the program.
“We’ve been working really hard on our program, so it wasn’t a complete shock that we were promoted,” she said. “It was a little surprising that we were promoted to a Class 3.”
Foster said that communities usually move one class at a time in the rankings that go from 10 to 1, with 1 being the best. Pinellas moved from a Class 7 to a Class 5 in 2014 and has now upgraded from a Class 5 to a Class 3.
“That shows that our floodplain program is pretty robust and doing well,” Foster added.
Communities that participate in the CRS program can have their flood insurance premiums discounted to reflect the reduced risk of flooding due to the area’s floodplain management efforts. The improved ranking projects more than $7.9 million per year in annual savings on flood insurance premiums.
Foster pointed to the county’s “proactive” watershed management program as playing a large role in reducing flood risks. She said the county also recently completed a vulnerability assessment and requires a sea-level rise analysis for capital improvement projects.
“We are developing data that is more up-to-date and robust than the traditional flood data that’s out there,” said Foster. “If you’re doing a project that should have a lifespan of 50 years, you’re going to want to look at the 50-year projections for the flood risk.”
Other county floodplain management practices include:
- Preservation of floodplains, such as the Brooker Creek Preserve.
- Improving flood risk mapping and floodplain development standards that are tailored to and address the local flood risk and conditions.
- Drainage system maintenance, which includes inspecting problem areas before and after significant storms to ensure they are clear and performed as designed.
- Expanding the Program for Public Information membership across the county’s municipalities and developing the online Flood Map Service and the Real Estate Flood Disclosure Program.
The enhanced discounts go into effect the same day the new FEMA flood insurance Risk Rating 2.0 methodology debuts. That will affect all new flood insurance policies in the county and may affect existing policy renewals. Existing policyholders that renew their policies between Oct. 1 and March 31, 2022, should contact their flood insurance agent to ensure they receive the best premium.
Foster called the improved CRS rating “the cherry on top.” However, the focus remains on making Pinellas County more resilient to climate change, reducing the flood risks, and ensuring that residents can get back on their feet after a flood.
“If there are CRS credit available for the things that we’re doing to move towards a more resilient Pinellas – that’s great,” said Foster. “But our ultimate goal is not a CRS goal.”
The county encourages residents to know their risk for flooding. For more information, they can call the National Flood Insurance Program help center at 1-800-427-4661 or visit the FEMA Office of the Flood Insurance Advocate at www.fema.gov/flood-insurance/advocate.