FEMA Flood Map

For a second time, Washington Planning and Zoning Commission members have voted to recommend the city council adopt new floodplain maps prepared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The city must officially adopt the maps by Oct. 18. If it fails to approve the new maps, citizens will not be able to purchase flood insurance through FEMA’s national insurance program and if there is a flood, the city may not be eligible for disaster aid.

The city council will hold a public hearing on the new maps next Monday, Sept. 19.

The new maps will replace the current maps that were adopted in 1982.

Last month, the plan board reviewed the new ordinance and heard some objections, then recommended adopting them.

City Engineer Dan Boyce said Monday that the ordinance reviewed earlier by the board has been amended based on recent conversations with State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) officials. Boyce asked the board to review the changes and endorse the measure again.

Those changes include adding administrative language provided by SEMA, providing specific conditions for variances related to agricultural structures and provide a new standard for the replacement of a manufactured home in an existing park that has incurred substantial damage as the result of a flood, Boyce said.

The revised ordinance has two main goals, Boyce said. They are adopting the new Oct. 18, 2011, FEMA Flood Insurance Study (FIS) and associated flood insurance rate maps and changing the city’s regulated flood elevation from 2 feet above the 500-year floodplain to 2 feet above the new 100-year floodplain in the new FIS.

Boyce stressed that the new FEMA maps are for all of Franklin County, not just Washington.

He said there are several processes for revising the FEMA maps available to communities and individuals.

Restudy Areas

“Some property owners can still challenge the maps,” Boyce said. “It’s not over (once the maps are adopted).”

He noted that there are three “approximate” 100-year flood zones in Washington  — the southwest tributary of Busch Creek, Fifth Street Creek and City Park Creek. He said the staff is proposing that these three creeks be evaluated for a possible city-funded restudy.

“This restudy would evaluate all existing hydrologic conditions including the stormwater piping system now a part of the approximate zones. There is no guarantee that such a study would benefit all affected properties, but a more accurate depiction of floodplain conditions would result,” Boyce said in a letter to the commission.

Charlie Schroepfer, who objects to the new map, said it was misleading to say that if they aren’t passed people could not buy flood insurance.

“Nobody ever said you couldn’t buy flood insurance,” Boyce said. “You just can’t buy federally backed insurance unless we follow these rules.”

Schroepfer said “every part of the study is wrong,” and said there are a lot of questions that “no one wants to address.”

“It’s wrong. I hope the council takes a close look at it and don’t rob the people,” Schroepfer said. “You’re putting people’s homes in the floodplain that have never had water in them before. It’s fraud engineering.”

Celeste Peters, 900 Madison Ave., questioned the “credentials” of engineers who performed the flood study and said the city should hire a good engineering firm before the codes are approved.

Tom Holdmeier, board chairman, noted that the city had commissioned three engineering firms to study and review the floodplain data.

New Elevations

The new 100-year floodplain elevations, in some cases, are more restrictive than the old 500-year flood elevations. The flood insurance program is based on the 100-year elevations.

Based on the new elevations, 70 structures currently within the 100-year floodplain would not be if the new maps are adopted, Boyce said. Conversely, about 50 homes and 30 mobile homes would move into the floodplain under the updated maps.

Flood Insurance

If a property changes from low-risk to high-risk under new floodplain maps, property owners likely will be required to protect their building and its contents at a higher rate.

However, under a grandfather provision in FEMA’s flood insurance program, property owners can buy a policy before the new maps take effect to keep a lower rate.

The city is encouraging these owners to talk with their insurance agents before the new maps take effect Oct. 18.

The provision is allowed as long as the policy is in place and the policyholder does not allow it to lapse, he added.

The rates under the grandfather provision also can be transferred to new owners if the structure is sold, provided the policy did not lapse, Boyce explained.

In his letter to the board, Boyce noted that the FEMA publication, “Saving on Flood Insurance,” which discusses the grandfather issue, has been advertised in The Missourian, is available on the city’s Web site and was included in a mailing to residents who will be affected by the new floodplain maps.