By John Callen, PE, CFM
When a local government joins the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), it agrees to adopt and enforce a floodplain management ordinance to ensure development is safe from flooding and local building owners can purchase flood insurance. In addition, Nebraska Statutes say, in part, that when a local government has been provided with sufficient data and flood maps, that community shall adopt, administer, and enforce floodplain management regulations which meet or exceed State minimum standards for floodplain management programs. Based on these provisions, communities implementing floodplain management in Nebraska oversee development activity in the floodplain within their jurisdiction. Communities are required, as part of their ordinance, to obtain and track floodplain permits for any floodplain development activity. Many communities do this via the building permit process that involves new buildings or other developments as defined by the ordinance. However, for communities or counties without building codes this can be challenging.
If this situation describes your community, there are some strategies to help you fulfill your floodplain management duties. One of these strategies is implementing a system of zoning permits. This strategy would work best in a community that has established zoning requirements which need to be reviewed prior to construction of a building. For example, this would typically include building setback requirements. A zoning permit process could be used by the community to require submittal of all proposed buildings for zoning regulation review, including floodplain management. For the purposes of floodplain management, a permit is also required for any non-building development as defined in the floodplain management ordinance. This includes but is not limited to grading, filling, or obstructions such as new bridges or culverts. It also includes activities undertaken by the local government. Due to this, any zoning permit process a community establishes would also need to include review of these types of developments.
Another strategy a community can use is training for local maintenance crews or other officials regarding the community’s floodplain management responsibilities. As community staff completes their regular duties, they can observe development activity in the floodplain and alert the local administrator to any unexpected activity. By working with other community officials, the local floodplain manager can improve the amount of area under observation for activity in the community’s flood hazard areas that may require a permit. However, this approach is not ideal, as it may lead to developments being started without a permit. This could cause significant problems for both the community and the property owner after the activity is discovered.
Overall, if a community is responsible for implementing State and Federal minimum floodplain management standards, a clear set of administrative procedures and an established permitting process is valuable to the community. This helps ensure floodplain management requirements are adhered to and helps the community maintain good status with the NFIP. Additional resources regarding minimum standards for floodplain management programs and administrative procedures can be found in NDNR’s digital desk reference.