One way to reduce flood risks is to work with willing landowners in flood-prone areas to either buy their property or elevate their homes. The Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) Grants Program uses Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding to reduce the risk of future flood damage to structures in flood-prone areas. Grant funds can be used by Whatcom County and its small cities to purchase flood-damaged properties that are most likely to be repeatedly flooded or help homeowners elevate and floodproof their homes.
After the November 2021 floods, the Whatcom County River and Flood Division worked with the small cities of Everson, Ferndale, and Sumas to identify and prioritize flood-damaged properties for mitigation assistance within unincorporated (outside city limits) and incorporated (inside city limits) Whatcom County. These properties have a high risk of repeated flooding.
In February 2022, River and Flood sent letters to over 700 property owners in this target area inviting them to respond with a notice of voluntary interest (NOVI) in either buyout or elevation assistance. Over 100 property owners responded. River and Flood staff have been working with Tetra Tech consulting staff to review these properties, evaluate their eligibility, and submit FEMA HMA grant applications for acquisition (buyout) or elevation funding through the Washington Emergency Management Division. There are several grant programs under FEMA HMA for which Whatcom County (and its small cities) are eligible to apply for and can be used for buyouts and elevations of flood-prone properties. These grant programs include the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), Building Resilient Infrastructure & Communities Program (BRIC), and Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA).
In August 2022, Whatcom County sent letters to over 100 additional property owners in other target unincorporated areas for mitigation assistance. Additional flood-prone properties not included in the first two rounds of letters will continue to be added to the list for review and evaluation for grant funding.
The FEMA HMA grant application process for buyouts and elevations can take up to a year after the grant application is submitted. The process to secure grant funding and purchase a home through the buyout program may take up to a few years to complete. Whatcom County is working with Washington State to expedite the process as much as possible.