Hoping to provide aid to the Selma Estates residents with recurring flood issues, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors directed staff Tuesday night to prepare a plan for establishing a home buy-out program.
Fourteen homes have been identified as being susceptible to flooding in the case of a 100-year storm event, and a small number of homes may experience flooding during a less intense storm within 10 years, according to a study from engineering consultant Wood PLC.
Selma Estates is located six miles north of Leesburg near Lucketts.
County staff was given a 90- to 120-day timeline to prepare an update for the board. The plan will include information about legal implications and authority, community interest, program acceptance criteria, funding, grant opportunities, cost estimates and limitations.
The motion made by outgoing Catoctin Supervisor Geary Higgins (R) passed 8-0-1. Dulles Supervisor Matthew Letourneau (R) was absent.
The home buy-out approach is estimated to cost the county around $12 million.
“The only thing that these folks did in Selma is that they bought a new house with the expectation that they would be able to live there,” Higgins said. "Frankly, personally I can’t imagine what they’ve been through. I think it’s bad enough we get water in the basement on heavy rain – and just trying to deal with a small amount – and so I can’t imagine flooding three, four, five, six feet in the basement and destroying your home in the process.”
Since engineering began in the early 2000s by Christopher Consultants and the home construction in 2013, residents have experienced reported basement floods in 2013, 2015 and 2018.
Residents impacted by the flooding lived along Farnborough Place, Osterly Lane, Trongate Court, Berkhamstead Place, and Saxon Shore Drive. Additionally, they are surrounded by more than a dozen sinkholes in the development, which was constructed by Stanley Martin Homes.
In 2018, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was contacted by then-Congresswoman Barbara Comstock (R) to study the issues surrounding the floodplain. By June 2019, FEMA found that the floodplain was not properly delineated and issued a correction to the floodplain boundary impacting approximately 25 properties.
The development consists of 277 lots since it was built in 2003.
Building and Development Director Alan Brewer said when the engineer group submitted its floodplain study based on FEMA’s map version in the early 2000s, the 100-year floodplain did not exist.
However, with improved technology, additional staffing and training, Brewer feels confident any future errors will be caught.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s by-right or not, homes cannot be built in a 100-year floodplain, and we’re confident as staff if this situation occurs again that we would catch the error and make it known,” Brewer said.
County staff sought to assure supervisors they are improving evaluations of future projects after being questioned about the approval of the housing development project. Staff has since acquired updated mapping information from FEMA, as well as in-house mapping tools.
“We review these applications with diligence, and as we find errors and omissions, we bring them to the engineer's attention,” Building and Development Program Manager Bill Cain said. “We do that with every application that comes in this building. We do it with our great diligence. I am very proud of the people I work with, and so I would say, it’s not to say anything negative about staff in the past, but we do this with diligence every day to ensure these types of things do not happen.”
Two residents spoke in support of the buyout program and their experiences with floods. County staff said flooding has resulted in damage to residential structures due to excessive runoff forcing its way into windows and doors, and into some basements.
"My family and I have suffered greatly over this. Other than my mother-in-law almost dying in the last flood, we almost lost our pets as well," Selma Estates resident Chad West said. "All of us – and especially my wife-- suffer greatly from post traumatic stress disorder over constant fear of our home flooding. Every time it rains there is fear, and it's almost everyday."
Supervisors recognized and greeted Selma residents after directing staff to begin planning for the buy-out program.
Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) embraced one resident who was crying after the decision.
“Yeah, we’re buying them out and we may get to that place, but let’s not forget there is a human toll to this besides whatever we might pay,” Randall said. “That’s something I think we should absolutely remember.”
Implementing a buy-out program was the most viable option based on Wood’s study. The firm also explored other options to mitigate the issue, including installing a berm, increasing the capacity of the stormwater system and constructing a large stormwater pond with an up-sized stormwater system.
County staff said cost estimates are preliminary. The $12 million figure would include the cost of purchasing affected homes, demolishing them and helping residents relocate.
The Selma Estates area may be eligible for the Pre-Disaster Mitigation program or Floodplain Assistance program, competitive national programs that provide annual funds. FEMA pays up to 75% for hazard mitigation projects.