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Completing Projects Faster with “No Rise” Certifications

By Thomas Kelley, PE, Project Manager, Koontz-Bryant, P.C

How many of you have worked on projects that involved some kind of construction that would take place within a flood source that has an established floodway? How many of those projects required significant changes just to avoid a floodway? How many of those projects were scrapped even though, as designed, they theoretically would not make an impact to the floodway, even while encroaching upon it? You may have changed a design that was much simpler and less expensive to execute in order to avoid what most would assume to be a 6 to 9 month permitting process getting approval from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Did you know that there are other options?

Many engineers assume that work within a floodway instantly involves the need for a Letter of Map Revision (LOMR) and with it the normal 3 to 9 month challenge of getting the LOMR approved. Although this may be the case in many circumstances, FEMA does allow an alternative permitting process that can in many instances get approval for a project without even providing a submittal to FEMA. This process involves gaining the local community’s approval through the use of a ‘No-Rise” Certification.

Paraphrasing Section 60.3 (d)(3) of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) regulations, a community shall prohibit encroachments and other development within the adopted regulatory floodway, unless it has been demonstrated through engineering analysis performed in accordance with standard engineering practice that the proposed encroachment would not result in any increase in base flood elevations. This provides an avenue for local communities to provide building or grading permits for projects encroaching upon the floodway to proceed, if the project can be designed without causing any changes to the currently published flood levels. For a community to satisfy the necessary requirements and permit construction, they must have certification stating that the project was designed to have no impact on flood levels.

A “No-Rise” Certification is a signed and sealed statement from a licensed engineer that the project has been designed to have no impact on existing flood levels. A “No-Rise” certification must be supported by technical data based upon acceptable standards required by FEMA. These standards include preparation of hydrologic or hydraulic computer modeling for existing and future conditions of the project area. The calculated results of these computer models are compared to currently published flood information found in the community’s Flood Insurance Rate Maps and Flood Insurance Study. If the comparison of the results indicates no impacts on existing flood levels, then a “No-Rise” Certification can be applied for through the community.

FEMA’s regulations dealing with flood insurance issues were developed to allow the communities to be the caretakers of their respective flood sources. This gives the communities permission to govern projects as long as the minimum requirements set forth by FEMA are followed. “No-Rise” Certifications are typically reviewed and approved locally. Approved certifications are kept on record by the local community for use in establishing future published information and are accessible to FEMA upon request. Although communities are required to review and approve the “No-Rise” Certification submittals, they may request technical assistance and review from FEMA. Requests such as these are typically handled at one of FEMA’s regional offices and are usually processed in about 30 days.

While a little daunting, some projects located within a floodway can be permitted in a timely fashion. In some instances time consuming map revision processes must be followed. Hopefully your next project, if designed appropriately, can avoid lengthy permitting time with the use of a “No-Rise” Certification. For more information please contact Thomas Kelley, PE, Project Manager at Koontz-Bryant.