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Thousands of homes flooded. Now, county leaders are looking to prevent more disasters

There is not enough money for Federal Emergency Management Agency to buy out the more than 2,000 homes affected by Hurricane Florence flooding in Horry County.

But that does not mean Horry County isn’t looking to help homeowners in need.

Assistant County Administrator Justin Powell said the county needs to be strategic, which is why staff will begin a resiliency plan to help prevent damage in current and future flooding. Council approved a resolution starting the drafting process at its Tuesday meeting.

Buyouts are handled by the state. If Horry County officials approve, the county then is responsible for the land. This includes lawn mowing, homeowners association fees and maintenance costs. If buyouts are to happen, Powell recommended it be done on a neighborhood or block basis.

And obviously not every one will want to sell. Powell said the plan will include policy and guidance to make sure the purchasing and recovery process is done well.

The issue on relying on FEMA buyouts comes down to money. The federal government allocated $160 million for the entire nation’s Flood Mitigation Assistance program. While other monies exist from FEMA, there still isn’t enough to meet what will probably be needed.

According to some hypothetical numbers presented to council, Horry County could easily take up that entire allocation just with the needs here from Florence.

The strategy, Powell mentioned, is looking at how the money can be best spent and exploring different sources to get funds, like a disaster recovery fund from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

For the federal government, buyouts are not a recovery step, Powell said; they’re a prevention method for future flooding to ensure the same steps will not need to be taken during a future natural disaster. Therefore, the county is required to ensure the initial buyouts aren’t repeated.

“It’s likely it will happen again in our lifetime,” Powell said.

If a homeowner repairs their property, that should not have an effect on the buyout program. Powell said the program is all about preventing future damage, not about recoveries.

Horry County Council Chair Mark Lazarus said that needs to be taken into account on how buyouts will affect future budgets, given the county’s responsibility in purchasing new land.

In addition to the resiliency plan, the council asked Horry and South Carolina’s delegation to the federal government to advocate for the Army Corps of Engineers to review the feasibility of a flood-mitigation canal.

The idea for a flood-mitigation canal is not new, with plans originally being made in the late 1990s. To put it simply, the cost versus benefit analysis has kept the canal from being built.

That said, new information from how Florence impacted the area could give the canal the momentum it needs to get built.

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