Home News and Features Flood Recovery: Flood Zone Property Owners Told to Raise Utilities When Rebuilding

Flood Recovery: Flood Zone Property Owners Told to Raise Utilities When Rebuilding

Volunteer RJ Thompson hauls flood-damaged items out of the basement of Onion River Outdoors on Langdon Street. Photo by John Lazenby
In the flurry of recovery after the July 10-11 flood, many home and building owners may have already repaired or replaced damaged furnaces and electrical units. However, word is just getting out from City Hall that in order to comply with National Flood Insurance Program regulations, property owners within the floodplain, aka River Hazard Area, must move key utilities above the flood line. So, for many Montpelier landlords, this means moving the furnace and electrical box upstairs or higher when replacing that infrastructure.

ORCA Screenshot: Mike Miller, director of planning and community development for the city of Montpelier.
The Montpelier City Council discussed this topic during the flood recovery update portion of their meeting July 26. The issue was highlighted by City Councilor Tim Heney, a third-generation real estate broker who grew up in Montpelier. Many of his properties have been damaged due to the flood, he told City Council in the July 12 council meeting. Heney said he felt communications coming out of Planning and Community Development Director Mike Miller’s office relating to raising utilities during the rebuilding process were “heavy handed” and “causing people a lot of stress and anxiety.” He went on to describe how people are spending lots of money trying to stabilize their heating and electrical systems, when meanwhile they are being told they have to move such things upstairs. “Is that true?” Heney asked.

“The answer is yes,” Miller responded, adding that his office is trying to get the word out having been displaced themselves by the flood. The planning office, located in City Hall’s lower floor, had been destroyed by the floodwaters, making it difficult to send out communications, he said. Flood hazard rules are very strict and the federal agency governing flood regulations in buildings have tightened up after a pattern of people quickly fixing up their buildings to make them function, and then never making the necessary upgrades to prevent flood damage from happening during the subsequent flood. Miller said his office supports people making temporary repairs so they can live in their house, but that “eventually things have to get moved up.”

Heney also took issue with having to get as many permits as Miller is requesting. “The approach to make people get permits for everything they are doing is punitive, I gotta tell you. I don’t have time for that,” Heney said. Miller responded by saying the city has waived permit fees except the recording fee.

Councilor Cary Brown added that she had not heard about people needing to move furnaces up out of their basements. She has had neighbors coming to her door and asking about it, but she did not know of the requirement. She further requested clarification and information about these requirements go out immediately in a lot of public notices.

Meeting participant K.C. Whiteley, also hearing about the requirement for the first time, said she would find complying with such regulations difficult. “I live in an 1880s house on St. Paul Street and I lost my hot water … I lost my furnace. And, honestly, I wanted some hot water. I didn’t want to wait for anything to be moved upstairs and I didn’t even know about that until tonight’s meeting, so I’ve already installed a hot water heater that is not nearly as good as the one I lost. And I’m on a fixed income, so when you are talking about these major, huge home improvements and changes…the cost of wiring to move electrical boxes and things like that. There’s no way I could afford to do any of that,” she said.

The Planning Department issued a press release July 28 to address some of these concerns:

Elevated Utilities FAQs

Do I need to elevate my utilities out of the basement?

If you own property in the River Hazard Area, any changes to your utilities need to meet the existing regulatory requirements. Utilities include electrical, heating, ventilation, plumbing, and other service facilities.

Montpelier participates in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and Community Rating System (CRS) which require elevating utilities to above the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) to ensure these utilities are protected from flood waters. Replacement of building utilities within the River Hazard Area requires River Hazard and Building Permits. 

How can I find out if my property is in the River Hazard Area? 

Email Audra Brown! Audra is the City of Montpelier Planning and Zoning Assistant and Certified Floodplain Manager. Reach out to Audra at abrown@montpelier-vt.org

Why do I need to elevate my utilities?

There are lots of reasons why elevating your utilities above the Designated Flood Elevation (DFE) is a worthwhile investment in your home or building. Here are a few reasons why you should elevate your utilities:

  1. Save money long-term. Elevated utilities mean less costly expenses from future flood damage. 
  2. Make your home more flood resilient. Elevated utilities make your home more resilient to future flood damage. The City did not receive any reports of flood damage in buildings that currently meet flood hazard requirements in Montpelier during the recent flood in July.
  3. Save money on insurance. Not only will elevating your utilities help you save money from not having to repair costly items, but you’ll also save money on flood insurance.
  4. Save money on fuel. When damaged utilities get flooded, the fuel in the tanks becomes contaminated with water. When your utilities are safe from being inundated with water, you won’t have the extra expense of replacing contaminated fuel. 
  5. Create a safer home. Contaminated fuel, electrical outlets, and water don’t mix. Elevating your utilities prevents dangerous situations from happening in flooded basements. 
  6. Keep your home operational during a disaster. A flooded basement full of utilities during the winter months can destroy your electrical, heating, and water systems all at once, leaving you vulnerable to preventable disasters. Utilities that are above the DFE help ensure your home will remain your shelter and safe haven during a disaster. 
How high do utilities need to be elevated?

Utilities must be elevated two feet above the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) or the Design Flood Elevation (DFE). Email Audra Brown at abrown@montpelier-vt.org to get an estimate of both the DFE and the approximate ground elevation for your building or residence.

I live outside the Designated Floodplain. Do I have to elevate my utilities?

No. Structures outside the floodplain do not need to make these changes. If you are outside the floodplain but did experience flooding, you may want to consider some of these modifications. The Montpelier Planning and Community Development can help advise you on how to implement these changes.   

My heating system was damaged but fixable. Do I need to elevate it?

A heating system that is minimally damaged and can be repaired in place may be allowed to remain below the DFE but please contact the Building Inspector, Michelle Savary at msavary@montpelier-vt.org, for an inspection to make this determination.

Where can I learn more?

For more information about flood and zoning regulations, visit the Planning and Community Development page on the City of Montpelier’s website at https://www.montpelier-vt.org/228/Planning-Community-Development 

You can also reach out to the Planning and Community Development Department. Please contact Audra Brown, the Planning and Zoning Assistant, and Certified Floodplain Manager at abrown@montpelier-vt.org 

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