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Permits are required to ensure that proposed development projects meet the requirements of the NFIP and your town ordinance. Once a person applies for a permit, the plans should be reviewed to make sure the project is compliant.

Basic rule #1: A permit is required for all development in the SFHA shown on your Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) or Digital Flood Insurance Rate Map (DFIRM).


The first step, therefore, is to get people to apply for a permit.

Federal Regulation 44 CFR 59.1: Definitions: "Development" means any man-made change to improved or unimproved real estate, including but not limited to buildings or other structures, mining, dredging, filling, grading, paving, excavation or drilling operations or storage of equipment or materials.

The NFIP requirements are keyed to “development” in the floodplain. “Development” means “any man-made change to improved or unimproved real estate. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Construction of new structures;
  • Modifications or improvements to existing structures;
  • Excavation;
  • Filling;
  • Paving;
  • Drilling;
  • Driving of piles;
  • Mining;
  • Dredging;
  • Land clearing;
  • Grading; and/or
  • Permanent storage of materials and/or equipment.

Federal Regulation 44 CFR 60.3(a)(1): “60.3(a) communities” that do not have a FIRM must require permits for all proposed construction or other development in the community, including the placement of manufactured homes, so that it may determine whether such construction or other development is proposed within flood-prone areas;

If you are a 60.3(a) community, you do not have a FIRM or DFIRM. Consequently, you must require a permit for all development projects throughout your community. You must review each project’s location to determine if it has a flood risk. If it does, the best way to protect a new building from flood damage is to obtain a BFE for the site and require that the building be elevated or protected to or above that BFE.

Building permits

Many communities in NH have a system for issuing building permits, but few have a permit system for “development.” Regulating all development in floodplains is essential because fill or other material can obstruct flood flows just as structures can. Because a “building permit” often covers only construction or modifications of buildings, this web module uses the term “development permit.” You should check your permit system to ensure that in the floodplain, permits are being required for ALL projects that meet the definition of development, not just “building” projects. Make sure you regulate the following in addition to the traditional building projects:

  • Filling and grading;
  • Excavation, mining and drilling;
  • Storage of materials;
  • Repairs to a damaged building that do not affect structural members;
  • Temporary stream crossings; and/or
  • Activities by other government agencies, such as roads, bridges and school buildings.

If your building permit system does not require permits for these activities, you need to revise your system, enact a new type of “development permit” or otherwise ensure that people apply for a permit for these non-building projects. A good administrative form can serve as a checklist for identifying the kinds of information that should accompany a permit application.

Small projects

You have some discretion to exempt obviously insignificant activities from the permit requirement, such as planting a garden, farming, putting up a mailbox or erecting a flagpole. You may also want to exempt routine maintenance, such as painting, minor landscaping or reroofing.

The key is whether the project will present a new obstruction to flood flows, alter drainage or have the potential to be a substantial improvement. These determinations can only be made by the permit official, not the builder, so make sure your exemptions are clear. There should be no possibility of a misunderstanding resulting in construction of a flood flow obstruction or a substantial improvement without a permit. Be clear in your ordinance if you do allow any exemptions.


Federal Regulation 44 CFR 60.3(a)(2) requires all NFIP communities to ensure that other federal and state permits have been obtained. You should not issue your local permit until you are certain that the other agencies’ requirements are met.

Some communities allow their permit officials to issue the local permit on the condition that other required permits are obtained. However, this is not as effective as holding the local permit until the applicant can show that the other agencies have issued or will issue their permits. Otherwise, the project may get under way before you are sure that it meets all legal requirements.