Downtown Charleston has lost its first house the federal government deemed so great a flood risk that it helped pay to tear it down.
A demolition crew began clawing away at the two-story 20th century colonial-style structure on Wednesday and is expected to finish soon.
The owner, Elizabeth Boineau, suffered interior flood damage in 2015 and 2016, and she had the house on the market last fall for $962,000 when Tropical Storm Irma swamped it yet again.
That's when she began looking at new options, including raising her home or — in a step that's rare in the city's historic district — razing it. Her plight drew national attention, featured recently in both The Washington Post and NPR.
The damaged house at 128 Beaufain St. proved tough to sell. She received an offer of $450,000 cash but declined it. At least one later contract fell through.
The city has seen other demolitions related in part to flooding. A 19th century mansion at 4 Gadsden St., just a block away, was demolished last year, partly because repeated flooding helped compromise its structural integrity. A house on oft-flooded Trumbo Street also was recently taken down.
But Boineau's case is special because she received $30,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help defray her costs.
She has a contract to sell the cleared lot for a sum below her $599,000 asking price, a deal contingent on the city's Board of Architectural Review approving plans for a new, elevated house there.
Boineau, who has a second home on Edisto Island and who plans to buy a West Ashley condominium where she currently rents, had been working with a buyer who planned to elevate the home, similar to what some other historic district homeowners are doing.
Dealing with both potential buyers and regulations behind a federal subsidy to elevate or remove the home — considered a severe repetitive loss property under FEMA's flood insurance program, kept Boineau on a roller coaster ride much of the year. When the most recent deal to elevate the home fell through, Boineau decided the best path was to clear the lot.
"I don’t think I have a modicum of emotional energy left to put toward it,” she said. "It takes a real toll. It’s very stressful just day after day after day."
Getting permission from the city's Board of Architectural Review to demolish the home proved to be the easy part: While in the historic district, the home was built around 1939 and greatly remodeled in the 1990s after Hurricane Hugo. It's considered to have less relatively less historic and architectural significance than others in the neighborhood.
The demolition was delayed a few weeks while Boineau and her contractor secured the necessary permission from S.C. Electric & Gas and the city. The city told Boineau on Wednesday that it would issue a letter of compliance once the demolition is complete — a step that will let her collect the other $15,000 of her FEMA payment.
Boineau still figures to make money on the property she bought for $225,000 in 1997 and spent about $55,000 to remodel — but not as much had its frequent flooding not become such a dominant issue.
And there might have been an unforeseen bonus: her hard-won knowledge of the system.
"When I quit my PR job, I’m going to become a FEMA consultant," she said. "I don't know anyone who has gained the knowledge that I have about the process. I've learned a lot. You can make it work for you with the right amount of tenacity."