Experts encourage coastal homeowners to elevate

League of Women Voters discuss storm preparedness
Homes on Market Street on the beach in Lewes saw severe flooding from Superstorm Sandy in October 2012. BY DENNIS FORNEY
October 23, 2013

Experts say property owners in coastal Delaware should take action to prepare for the next major storm.

Delaware League of Women Voters hosted Extreme Weather Events, a forum where panelists discussed how coastal Sussex County is impacted by storms and sea-level rise.

Wendy Carey, a coastal hazard specialist at University of Delaware, said property owners should take precautions to prepare for major storms. “Do it well in advance of the next emergency,” she said.

Carey said more than oceanfront homes are at risk of flooding and property damage.  “The bay beaches are certainly not immune to these impacts and hazards,” she said.

Counties and municipalities in Delaware can mitigate hazards, Carey said. Zoning laws that prohibit building too close to the water are a good idea, she said, but they are often hard to implement because of backlash from property owners.  “What if we suggest, ‘Let’s relocate everybody in Prime Hook?’” she asked.  “People have property rights.”

“These are tough decision that policy-makers have to make,” Carey said.

Property owners should take personal responsibility to protect their investment, Carey said.  “You have to be well aware of the flood risk, not only for your property, but for evacuating from your property,” she said.

“One of the best ways to prevent flood damage is elevation,” she said. Landowners can also move the home away from the waterfront, Carey said.

She said freeboard elevation and covering windows and doors during a storm could limit repair costs and lower flood insurance rates.

Architect and Lewes resident John Mateyko said Superstorm Sandy flooded the Cape Region in October 2012, but his hometown in New York was destroyed.  The storm caused electrical fires and household chemicals leaked into flooded areas.  “Whole blocks destroyed by fire,” he said.  “The whole thing smelled like a chemical dump when you walked around it.”

Mateyko said property owners can prepare for storms by using plywood to cover windows, getting household chemicals out of areas likely to flood and elevating electrical wiring and equipment.

Mateyko also suggested elevating coastal homes and installing rooftop solar panels to prepare for power outages.  “You can make your house resilient,” he said.