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Lewes to consider building code amendment that incorporates sea level rise projections

Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
The City of Lewes will become increasingly vulnerable to flooding as a result of climate change

The City of Lewes could become the first town in Delaware to explicitly account for sea level rise in its building code.

Lewes City Council will hold a public hearing Monday evening on an ordinance that would raise some building code requirements, to guard against the higher water levels predicted in the future. Council will vote on it at a later date.  

If Lewes approves the measure, it would likely be the first municipality or county in the state to explicitly incorporate future sea level rise projections into its building code. State and county officials say they’re not aware of any others at this point. 

The proposed ordinanceapplies to the 100-year and 500-year floodplains, or areas in which FEMA predicts a 1% and .2% annual chance of flooding. 

Under the measure, critical facilities and properties that are being substantially redeveloped in those zones would need to be built up higher, by the amount sea levels are predicted to rise a certain number of years out. 

Most properties covered by the proposed ordinance would need to incorporate an additional vertical buffer known as freeboard. The City’s existing freeboard policy helped earn residents a discount on flood insurance. 

Janelle Cornwell, head of planning and development for the City of Lewes, indicated officials may consider more climate-related policy, including standards for new construction, in the future. 

“The proposed ordinance is called ‘Resiliency,’ and it’s proposed to allow it to be expanded to address other items as well, because they recognize there’s a lot of things that could potentially impact the City,” she said. 

Cornwell says the City has been trying to plan for sea level rise for several years.

“They recognize sea level rise is coming,” she said. “We have a lot of properties throughout the city that could be impacted. So how do we protect those properties, as well as the rest of the city?”

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the City of Lewes would see significant inundation in 50 years under an intermediate sea level rise scenario.

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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