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National Award for Drakes Branch!

VFMA is happy to announce that the Town of Drakes Branch was awarded the 2021 James Lee Witt Local Award for Excellence in Floodplain Management by the Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM)! Please join us in congratulating the staff on this great accomplishment!

From left: Councilmember Clarence Hamlett Jr., Vice-Mayor Phillip Jackson, Mayor Denise Pridgen (holding the ASFPM award), Councilmember Peery Wells Sr. & Councilmember Deborah Kannedy; Town Clerk, Mary Sands. Absent Councilmembers were James K. Gregory & Noah Davis.

VFMA nominated the town for this award because of the their Downtown Flood Study and associated work. The town, located in Charlotte County, is a very small, rural community in central Virginia, with a population just over 500 people according to the 2010 census. Their resources are severely limited, which is often the case for communities across the country dealing with flooding. Their tenacity to address their flooding issues has demonstrated that any community can come together to reduce its flood risk, no matter its size or resources.

Project Overview

The town has struggled for years with significant flooding in downtown, including a major disaster declaration from Tropical Storm Michael in 2018 during the development of the Downtown Flood Study. This repeated flooding has damaged buildings, including the town hall and fire station. Many of the buildings on Main Street are falling apart due to the repeated flood damage, many have been condemned, and this has also led to businesses and residents leaving downtown Drakes Branch.

Flood damages at Town Hall after Tropical Storm Michael (October 2018)

Although there was a small Zone A floodplain mapped behind the downtown buildings, the majority of downtown was not mapped as a special flood hazard area, which significantly limited the town’s options for mitigation. Instead of giving up, the town, with help from the Commonwealth Regional Council, was able to utilize multiple state and federal programs to address this issue.

First, the town had a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development for downtown revitalization efforts. They were able to modify this agreement to use some of the CDBG funds as a local match for funding available through the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Dam Safety, Flood Prevention and Protection Assistance Fund. Using this funding, the town was able to hire A. Morton Thomas and Associates, Inc. (AMT) to conduct a flood study of the downtown. This provided additional data that was necessary to be eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Hazard Mitigation Assistance funding, as well as correctly reflect the flood risk experienced by the town.

AMT completed the flood study and helped the town get a Letter of Map Revision (LOMR) approved by FEMA in 2019 to officially amend their Flood Insurance Rate Map and accurately depict the floodplain in downtown. The town has since used this information to apply for Hazard Mitigation Program Grant (HMGP) funding through the Virginia Department of Emergency Management to acquire some of the damaged buildings in downtown. This grant is still under review by FEMA.

While all of this was happening, a property owner in the town also donated a piece of property across the street from the existing downtown buildings, so the town would have a location to build its new municipal building and fire department (outside of the newly mapped floodplain). This construction is already underway!

New town hall/fire station under construction (2021).

The town would like to thank Todd Fortune (Commonwealth Regional Council), Melody Foster (Commonwealth Regional Council), Don Rissmeyer (AMT), Kristin Owen (formerly DCR), Lucy Carter-Smith (VDEM), Robbie Coates (VDEM), and Debbie Messmer (VDEM) for their assistance on this project.

Congratulations, Drakes Branch!