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Blaming the dFIRM Messenger?

March 18, 2010

Moorhead, MN, May 27, 2009 -- Two residents of Clay County examine the flood plain maps developed by FEMA. Flood control and mapping are an important part of FEMA's mitigation efforts. Photo by Ed Edahl/FEMA

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

New flood maps have some boiling

A federal effort to redraw boundaries of areas that are at risk of flooding is likely to force hundreds of Minnesotans to pay for flood insurance for the first time,

By CHRIS HAVENS and JIM ANDERSON •, Star Tribune staff writers

In Minnesota and across the United States, thousands of property owners will soon be forced to buy flood insurance because new federal flood-risk maps suddenly put them in flood zones.

The revisions have unleashed outcries as some dispute the reality of the new boundaries and the true risk of flood damage. The changes, made by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), can cost a property owner from hundreds to thousands of dollars each year….

Redefining how far floodwaters reach has broad implications for property and business owners, local governments, developers and others. The maps are used to determine insurance rates, who is required to buy insurance, and to guide local governments with flood plain and development policies.

That’s why FEMA embarked on a $1 billion effort in 2004 to update old maps using new technology. The maps are being updated county by county across the country.

It’s a mixed blessing.

“There’s going to be more people finding out they need flood insurance,” said Ceil Strauss, flood plain manager for the state Department of Natural Resources. “There’s actually quite a few that are finding out they won’t need it anymore, or that they’re not in the flood plain.”

I’ve heard mixed reviews on FEMA’s Flood Map Modernization process and the dFIRM mapping results.

Nationally, the map revisions have been a mixed bag. Some communities have complained about inaccurate maps. Others howled when FEMA said flood-protection systems weren’t up to snuff and redrew maps ignoring them, putting thousands of properties in hazard areas that had previously been considered protected. Elsewhere, property owners rejoiced because the revised maps showed their properties weren’t at risk and ended the need for insurance.

“A central part of our commitment to protect lives and property is to ensure that people are aware of the natural hazards and risks that exist in their communities,” said FEMA spokeswoman Cat Langel. “FEMA works closely with local communities during this collaborative process to ensure that any verifiable data that will strengthen the flood maps is included and incorporated.”

The maps, called Flood Insurance Rate Maps, or FIRMS, depict areas at various risks of flooding, with special attention on special hazard areas that would be affected by floods that have a 1 percent chance every year of happening, or 100-year floods.

As many counties don’t even have Q3 digital layers of the old paper FIRMs, at least dFIRMs give us something a bit better to go on.

Congress established the National Flood Insurance Program in 1968 as a way to offer protection to property owners in exchange for local governments taking actions to reduce the risks of damage to property. Those actions include limiting development in highly flood-prone areas.

The government backs the insurance program, but people purchase policies from private agents. Standard homeowner insurance policies don’t cover flood losses.

Cost of insurance depends mainly on a property’s potential for flooding and the amount of coverage. Homeowners who don’t live in a flood plain can insure their house ($250,000) and its contents ($100,000) for an annual premium of $388.

For some structures in high-risk areas, the cost can range up to thousands of dollars.

Any property owner living in a community in the program can buy flood insurance, but structures in the 100-year flood plain having federally regulated mortgages — the vast majority of them — are required to have it. According to FEMA, structures located in the flood plain have a 26 percent chance of sustaining flood damage during the term of a 30-year mortgage.

After FEMA makes revisions, local governments must adopt them into flood plain-management ordinances if they want to remain in the program. If a community chooses not to participate, then insurance is no longer available.

Rest of this story here.  The STRIB also has a short story highlighting the levee certification issue.  It’s a complicated issue that some cities seem to be doing better on than others.

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