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Rising UP: City of New Smyrna Beach Receives FEMA Grant to Elevate At-Risk Homes

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Cruising around the city of New Smyrna Beach (NSB), citizens and visitors are spotting elevated homes. The whole single-family structures, including the garage, are raised, resting on concrete columns. The electrical and mechanical equipment, like the air conditioner, are also elevated outside the home. The homes were approved for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP). Since Hurricane Irma (2017), the homes often flood during hurricanes.

The city has been working to complete two projects that include nine homes being elevated above the 100-year floodplain. The city is working with FEMA, the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FLDEM) and homeowners on the projects. Currently, NSB is the only city in Volusia County that has started elevating homes. Other cities are waiting for HMGP approval.

“The elevation project is unprecedented in New Smyrna Beach,” comments Kyle Fegley, City Engineer of 21 years. “The city is taking action to elevate homes well above the FEMA base flood elevation, including taking sea level rise into account.” According to FEMA, these homes will be elevated to a minimum required height of 1.5 feet above the highest known flood level and an additional 3 feet to account for sea level rise. The city outlined the scope of the work to permit the elevation of the structures even higher, 8 to 10 feet from the existing ground. 

CITY RESEARCH 

The city began its search for interested homeowners by scheduling a series of public meetings that detailed the HMGP grant program. A powerpoint presentation pitched, “turnkey services” for the elevation project including: structural assessment, geotechnical work (if required), boundary survey, construction plans, permitting, disconnection and reconnection of utilities, elevation work, post-improvement elevation certificates and archaeological monitoring services. 

In order to receive the funding, the property must qualify. Homes are selected through an application process that includes proof of flood claims, flood zone designation and photos. The selected homes include six between Ocean Avenue and 2nd Avenue in the central beach neighborhood and three waterfront properties along Sunset Drive in the Islesboro neighborhood. According to a news release from the city, “FEMA funds 75 percent of the project with the remaining 25 percent split between the city and each property owner. The city will contribute a max of $35,000 per property.”

“This program is FEMA’s response to homeowners who have made repetitive claims to their federal flood insurance policy,” says Fegley. “Some have flooded more than five times since 2017.” The homes being lifted now were all approved for HMGP after Hurricane Irma hit. The process to construction took 5.5 years. 

Funding for the work at each property is determined using cost basis analysis. Fegley emphasized, “It is imperative that homeowners commit to staying in the program. If a homeowner changes their mind or decides to sell the property, that affects all the other participants. Construction and planning stops and the funding must be reconfigured for the remaining properties.”

CONSTRUCTION

Homeowners are displaced from their homes during the elevation construction. The program is not a perfect fit for each property, as each home and household are unique. 

Plans call for a structural engineer to inspect the home. For example, determining if underneath the home has rebar versus wire meshing. Rebar is readily available to be lifted. The wire meshing projects need additional I-beams. 

Plumbing for each of the homes is also raised. The exposed pipes extend up from the water meter and are secured underneath the home. After the lift, plans also include staircases, handrails and a residential outdoor elevator. 

HOMEOWNER RELIEF

The current homeowners in the program are feeling relieved. Amanda Prokop, NSB resident since 2013, has a household that includes her wife and two children, now ages 11 years old and 9 years old. “This is our forever home,” said Prokop. She shared that the waterfront, 2,300-square-foot home flooded three more times since Hurricane Matthew (2016). 

“We had just finished a remodel after flooding during Hurricane Matthew and nine months later, it was all washed away during Hurricane Irma,” explains Prokop. “It didn’t matter that we had any of the flood control items like sandbags, door dams and flood barriers, our home had water come up through the foundation.”

Steve and Linda Trofatter bought their waterfront, 1,600-square-foot home in 2014 and has flooded every hurricane since 2016. “The project begins with workers hand-digging up to 6 feet around the home,” said Steve Trofatter. “With all the activity, people are always driving by and checking it out. We’ve met many people that are a part of the neighborhood, past and present.” 

“This is our retirement paradise. The lift is a guarantee we will not flood again,” comments Linda Trofatter. “We are all tired of putting bandaids on our homes. It was time for surgery.” 

Current project update (May 23, 2023)  from Kyle Fegley, City Engineer: 

600 Goodwin Ave. Home has been elevated to the required height, Contractor working on access, mechanical/plumbing and electrical connection.

610 Goodwin Ave. Contractor has completed the elevation process and is moving forward with reconnecting utilities (i.e. water, sewer, electric, telecommunications, etc.) along with final site restoration efforts.

643 Goodwin Ave. Final elevation has been realized, access stairways are in place with final electrical, plumbing and site work being the remaining tasks.

507 S. Peninsula Ave. Contractor has completed the elevation process and is moving forward with reconnecting utilities (i.e. water, sewer, electric, telecommunications, etc.) along with final site restoration efforts.

626 Pine St. Elevation process is complete, patio & staircase is installed working on final electric & plumbing tasks.

2696 Sunset Dr. Elevation process complete remaining work includes electric, plumbing and installing the lift.

2700 Sunset Dr. Elevation process complete remaining work includes electric, plumbing and installing the lift.

2926 Sunset Dr. Elevation is complete, access stairway to home passed inspection in the process of closing out final items needed for occupancy.

632 Yupon Ave. Initial lifting operation revealed some deficiencies in the existing slab that need to be addressed prior to proceeding with the elevation process.

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