South Bethany Tables Votes on Sea Level Rise - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

South Bethany Tables Votes on Sea Level Rise

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SOUTH BETHANY, De. - The South Bethany Council debated a pair of ordinances meant to protect homeowners against flooding for more than three hours Wednesday, before tabling the vote until a later date. At the meeting, members from a town committee on sea level rise presented their data, but they were met with opposition from some homeowners who thought the action was premature.  

The first ordinance related to the Flood Base Elevation (FBE) of these homes. Currently the Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) dictates how high homes need to elevate, in order to meet their criteria. This ordinance would mandate that all new, at-risk homes build an additional three feet of elevation to this base.

To accommodate this first change, a second ordinance was pitched by the committee as well, which would allow these homes to build an additional two feet to the building itself. This would have raised the height limits from 32 feet to 34 feet in South Bethany. 

The first ordinance was not even voted on, after committee members said there was apparently a lot of doubts from council members. The council did vote on the second ordinance, rejecting it by a vote of 4 to 3. Committee members told WBOC they plan to go back to the drawing board, and will re-pitch these ordinances after doing more analysis. 

Councilman George Junkin lead the committee and was one of the main advocates for the ordinance change. He said that the FIRM requirements were adequate for the time being. However, he told WBOC that sea level rise would be problematic within the next decade. He said the additional three feet would help protect homes from damage. 
       
"We want to protect their property," he said. "And if they build just to the food base elevation, they have a very high probability of getting their homes damaged."

Junkin said that in the past, relying on FIRM mandates has left homes under-prepared for flooding.

“In the 90's there were houses built right to the limit with no margin," he said. "And they quite often had damage above what they defined as in the base flood elevation."

At the meeting though, Junkin was met with opposition from various local homeowners who thought the change would be burdensome and unnecessary. One of those people was Bob Coleman, an engineer from South Bethany. Coleman told WBOC that the estimates for Sea Level rise were greatly exaggerated in his opinion. 

“I’m concerned about conclusions that people are drawing from the tidal data," he said. "I think they're erroneous conclusions.”

Both the committee and Coleman looked at the same tidal data over a period of 14 years. However, their separate analysis of the same data were at ends with each other. Coleman said that in his interpretation, the data showed a limited rise over the time period, whereas the committees work demonstrated a trend towards a major rise over the next couple decades. 

“I don’t question the tidal data," said Coleman. "I think it’s from reliable sources. I just think the analysis that was done on it is incorrect from a statistical point of view.”

WBOC took this question to the Delaware Center for Inland Bays where we spoke with Chris Bason, an expert on sea level rise and the Delaware bays. He said that in his opinion, the statistics demonstrate that sea level is on the rise. He said this problem expands far beyond just South Bethany. 

"The state of Delaware is projecting sea level to rise over the next 100 years by 1.6 feet to 5 feet,” he said.  

Bason said that he was in support of the committee's proposal, arguing that more communities needed to prepare for sea level increases across the state. 

"Anybody that lives near sea level in a coastal town like that needs to be thinking about the future in terms of sea level rise," he said.  
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