FEMA designates much of McDowell as a Community Disaster Resilience Zone

Sep. 8—WELCH — A section of McDowell County has been designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency as a Community Disaster Resilience Zone, a designation which FEMA says will help to protect the county from climate change and natural disasters.

The McDowell County designation includes the Sandy Huff, Big Sandy, Hensley, Marytown, Twin Branch, Welch, Kimball and Big Four communities. In addition to McDowell County, 483 other census tracts across the nation were identified by FEMA as Community Disaster Resilience Zones.

In a press release announcing the federal designation, FEMA said Congress directed the agency to make these designations in the Community Disaster Resilience Zones Act of 2022. That legislation was designed to help communities build resilience to natural hazards and climate change.

FEMA said it will use the Community Disaster Resilience Zones designations to direct and manage financial and technical assistance for resilience projects. For example, the agency said the legislation provides additional federal cost-share for projects in designated zones. FEMA said the zone designations can also help the private sector, nonprofits, philanthropies, and other non-federal partners target investments in community resilience.

McDowell County has seen a number of destructive floods in recent decades, including the 2001 and 2002 disasters that impacted various communities across the county, including Kimball, Big Four, Welch and the communities of Anawalt, Landgraff and Northfork — which aren't included in FEMA's zone designation. The town of Keystone, which is partially included in the zone designation, also received significant flood damage in the 2001 and 2002 disasters.

When contacted Thursday, McDowell County Commission President Cecil Patterson said local officials had not been contacted by FEMA about the zone designation.

Patterson said he was reading up on the designation, and would be able to comment on it once he became familiar with it.

"I'm reading on it," Patterson said. "We haven't been told about that."

FEMA said the McDowell County designation also advances the Biden-Harris Administration's whole-of-government commitment to environmental justice by incorporating the White House Council on Environmental Quality's Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool, which identifies disadvantaged communities that are underserved and overburdened by pollution and climate risk.

"These designations will help ensure that the most at-risk communities are able to build resilience against natural hazards and extreme weather events, which are becoming increasingly intense and frequent due to climate change," FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said in the press release. "This aligns with Congress' direction and other FEMA initiatives to get federal support and resources to the communities that need them most."

FEMA said the initial set of designations covers all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It said more Community Disaster Resilience Zone designations will be announced in the fall.

This new law amends the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Recovery and Emergency Act to direct use of a natural hazard risk assessment index, like FEMA's National Risk Index, to identify communities which are most at risk of the effects of natural hazards and climate change.

— Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com

— Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com. Follow him @BDTOwens