Wednesday, October 1, 2014

FEMA responds to flood map questions

J-E News Editor
Seven months after initially rejecting new FEMA flood maps, the topic was back on the table at last week’s Webster County Fiscal Court meeting. Judge Executive Jim Townsend and Webster County EMA Director Jeremy Moore recently attended a meeting hosted by Todd Bass from FEMA’s Atlanta office in which Bass warned counties that they were at risk of losing FEMA monies if they continued to not adopt the maps.
Magistrates decided to table the discussion until their next meeting, but it was clear the tides of opinion have changed since February. At the core of that change seems to be FEMA’s threat of withholding disaster funds.

One official who has been very outspoken about not adopting the maps since the very beginning is Judge Executive Wade White from Lyon County. His county was one of the first in the state to adopt the maps in 2013, but quickly voted them out after reviewing them more closely. He has urged Webster County to stand strong.
“They are bullying Webster County and I suggest the Fiscal Court stand strong,” said White. “Don’t let the FEMA do this to you.”
Although Todd Bass was unavailable to speak with The J-E, he put us in contact with Danon Lucas, FEMA RIV External Affairs.
“If unincorporated Webster County does not participate in the National Flood Insurance Program, there are limits on the county’s eligibility for FEMA Disaster Assistance,” said Lucas. “The National Flood Insurance Act of 1968 prohibits federal assistance for structures located within special flood hazard areas (SFHA) of non-participating communities.”
He adds that if public assistance is included in a major disaster declaration, buildings located in the SFHA would not be eligible for federal funds to repair the damages.
“If Individual Assistance is included in the disaster declaration, homes and businesses in non-participating communities would not be eligible for the repair of insurable structures,” Danon explained. “Most structures – either in the SFHA or not – would be insurable if the community participates in the NFIP. The county’s eligibility for grants/loans from other federal agencies would also be limited.”
“Have you ever seen how hard it is to get ‘individual assistance from FEMA?” asked White. “To really get people help from a flood, it requires a large amount of houses to be affected. Our biggest flood in 2011 didn’t get enough houses in Lyon County to qualify for funds from FEMA.”
According to Webster County Judge Executive Jim Townsend, there was a tornado that came across the county several years ago and damaged several houses near Sebree.
“We spent three days putting paperwork together to get everything ready and we were unable to get the FEMA funding,” he said.
During the February meetings, magistrates were of the understanding that FEMA planned to amend the maps, but now it seems that this is not the case.
“The current Webster County Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) were effective on December 17, 2013 but were not adopted by the county,” said Danon. “There is no current Flood Insurance Study for Webster County.”
But the Lyon County judge says this is not necessarily the case.
“Despite FEMA saying they will not redraw the maps, they have redrawn maps,” White said. “I have been told that in October they will have preliminary maps complete for the lake side homes on Lake Barkley.  They  have performed LIDAR which is done by a plane and is accurate to within 6”. This should be accurate. I’m waiting for them now.  Its been a crazy long battle but I consider it worth it because we now are getting new maps.  
“I think it took us longer because we signed on to the maps in the beginning and could not see the defects in them. Webster County has the advantage of other counties saying don’t do it. If Webster County agrees to the maps, then they will use that to say  ‘Webster had its chance and agreed, so too bad.’  The time to fight this is now. That is the whole point of the preliminary review.”
According to Townsend, Union County Judge Executive Jody Jenkins says that FEMA has been in the process of reflying areas around the Tradewater River.
“They were supposed to be reflying those because of the floodwalls in Union County,” Townsend said. “They’ve had to redo those walls and haven’t been able to get any grant money to help pay for them.”
In February, conservation agent Mike Andrews addressed the Fiscal Court and others at a meeting held at the courthouse in Dixon. He said he’d seen several issues with the maps, especially in the Blackford area where the maps set the flood level at 363.5 feet.
“When they did the map, I think they just covered the whole town with the flood zone,” said Andrews. “There are a lot of structures in Blackford that are above the 363.5 foot benchmark.”
Even after being presented this information, Danon did not admit to any flaws in the maps.
“Flood maps are generally developed through a partnership among local, state and federal agencies,” said Danon. “Local flood risk is depicted on flood maps. FEMA uses accepted science and engineering and incorporates validated flood hazard information from other sources. Perceived errors can be addressed through a formal process.”
“The thing is if we don’t have a flood but have a tornado, we’ll be covered even if we don’t adopt the flood maps,” said Judge Townsend. “But if we have a flood that washes out a county road, we wont be. We have some roads in the county that do flood, and we’ve gotten money to repair them in the past.”
Becaue of this, when the fiscal court reconvenes, members will have to weigh the cost of not adopting the maps not only on the residents of Webster County, but on the county itself.
Prior to the introduction of these maps last December, Webster County did not have an existing flood map plan. Flood zones were generally determined by the flood levels of 1937. The ‘37 flood is considered the worst flood in the area’s history.
A land owner who feels that their property was incorrectly included in the floodzone can file a Letter of Map Change (LOMC) with FEMA. Regardless of whether or not the county adopts the maps, until such time as the maps are redrawn, this is the property owners’ only means of having their property’s designation changed. Reports on the expense of this process have varied, with some people saying they did it themselves for free and other saying that they paid several thousand dollars toto have their property surveyed.

No comments:

Post a Comment