Georgia Couple Rises Above Two Major Floods

Inland Flooding 8/1/2004 Cobb County

Vinings, GA - When Joyce Prince told her neighbors plans for her new house were “up in the air,” she wasn’t kidding. As a matter of fact, raising the level of her house was the only way Cobb County would allow her to build it so close to the Chattahoochee River. Now, two major floods later, she admits it was all worth it.

“I jumped through all of the hoops to be able to build this house,” said Prince, who cites a gauntlet of soil studies, county building codes, floodplain management restrictions, and the extra costs that had to be met to complete the project. “Cobb County inspectors made sure all of our construction was done according to the county’s floodplain management requirements.”

Prince and her husband, Dr. Bruce Prince, live in Vinings, an unincorporated section of Cobb County on the Chattahoochee. In the spring of 2001, the Princes decided to downsize their home while staying in the same neighborhood. Determined to continue living by the river, they bought property just down the street from where they were living to build a more affordable home. It was even closer to the river’s edge, which meant building codes would be very strict, but they were prepared to do whatever was necessary to build their new home there.

A ridge on the property raised a dispute as to whether or not the land was in a floodway, which is defined as an hazardous area due to the velocity of floodwaters, debris, or erosion potential. They hired a local engineering firm to perform a hydrology and hydraulic study, and their final report showed that while the property was on the floodplain, it did not sit in the floodway, which meant they would be able to build there.

As the Princes began drawing up plans for their new dream home, they were informed by Henry Mingledorff, chief engineer of the Cobb County Stormwater Management Division, that stringent requirements first had to be met in the design and construction of the house in order to obtain the permits necessary to build it.

“I always tried to go above and beyond the requirements that the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) had for placement of a house in a flood zone,” said Mingledorff. “I worked with the Princes to explain the requirements and what steps they needed to take.”

To comply with the codes, the house had to be raised to a minimum of three feet above the base flood elevation for the area, bringing it to an overall height of 12 feet. Concrete pilings with steel rebar inside were driven 16 feet into the ground down to bedrock, and then secured to the structure’s framing. Once the base level was completed, the living area of the house was built on top of that.

Finally, in August 2004, the Princes moved into their brand-new home and right away faced their first big test from the Chattahoochee. Hurricane Ivan, a Category 5 storm, made landfall on the southeastern U.S. just six weeks after the Princes had moved in. Ivan’s winds and rains raised the river approximately 23 feet, putting the Princes’ front yard under 8 feet of water. Weather experts referred to it as a “100-year flood,” which means a 1-percent chance of flooding in an area in any given year.

“Thanks to elevating our house, we had zero damage, except for the yard,” said Prince. “There literally was no damage whatsoever.” The Princes breathed a sigh of relief thinking they had been through the worst, but a second and even bigger test was still five years away.

When the rains of September 2009 drenched Atlanta, the Chattahoochee River at Vinings topped 28 feet—five feet higher than the flood of 2004. This time, the water level in the Princes’ front yard reached close to 12 feet, coming within six inches of their first floor living area. Their house had just endured what was referred to as the “500-year flood,” meaning a 0.2-percent chance of an area flooding within a year’s time.

Heeding advance flood warnings, the Princes moved their cars and belongings out of the garage to higher ground. When the flood came, the water level in the concrete area was high enough to touch the garage’s ceiling, but did not get into the first-floor living area.

Two of the Princes’ neighbors on the street also had their homes built to county floodplain management requirements and they, too, weathered the flood with no major structural damage. Prince says both of those homeowners told her that the water line on their homes came to the same level as hers and that their first-floor living areas also had stayed dry.

Unfortunately, most of the Princes’ neighbors were not so lucky, and the water seriously damaged or destroyed many homes in the lower-lying areas. Floodwaters rose high enough to ruin the second floor of several neighboring houses.

“The people at the end of the street were totally wiped out,” said Prince.

In the beginning of the building process, the Princes had resisted CobbCounty’s codes that required them to elevate their house 12 feet, dramatically revise their house plans, and pay extra costs for hydraulic reports, special architectural designs, and additional building materials. Now, however, the Princes have no regrets doing what they had to do to have a home on the river.

“I’m glad we made the right choice,” said Prince. “Cobb County and the NFIP were 100 percent correct in what they required us to do.”