As governments are preparing to adopt the first new federal flood insurance rate maps in a quarter century, some local residents are being surprised by the news that they are now considered part of a flood plain.
In order for public and private property to be eligible for insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program, cities and counties must adopt as part of their ordinances the maps laying out flood elevations and risk zones established by FEMA.
The maps, which will go into effect July 4, determine flood insurance rate limits, which are based on the likelihood of the areas flooding.
Since the last time the zones were drawn up in 1986, much has changed in the way mapping is done. The older versions now appear relatively crude and hand drawn compared to the new digital maps, which were done using detailed, aerial photographs overlaid with more sophisticated measurements.
Where there used to be four maps for the entire county, there are now more than 30.
More detailed mapping means more property, particularly newer construction, could be considered part of the flood plain.
Boyle County Public Works Director Duane Campbell, also the county’s flood plain coordinator, is among the many local administrators trying to figure out who is affected. He has sent out letters informing those who might be under flood elevation, which is measured from the first floor of a building, and encouraging them to make appointments to view the maps.
About 30 buildings that may be affected have been identified so far in Boyle County. Assistant Danville city engineer Josh Morgan, who is heading up the effort in the city, said staff have determined some homes in the Streamland subdivision will now be considered flood prone due to their proximity to Spears Creek.
“For us in the county it has been very scattered and we don’t have a lot of subdivisions out in the county,” Campbell said. “Just about everyone near a stream is affected or might be, so if you are, you should probably go ahead and contact us. Most people have been conservative and tried to build their homes at an elevation where it will not impact them either way.”
Campbell said anyone who lives around water should check with the local flood plain administrator before they get a letter from their bank in July telling them they must purchase the insurance.
Those who own their homes or businesses outright can choose whether to purchase flood insurance or not. However, if there is a mortgage for the home and it is in a flood zone, the lending agency may require insurance.
While Campbell said he has had productive talks with about half of the people who received letters, some have been dismayed by the new reality and frustrated by trying to find out how the designation affects their property.
George Davis, who lives on Forkland Road, was shocked when he received a letter from Campbell. When Davis and his wife Terry built their home six years ago they were not considered part of the flood plain, but said he built the home up about 8 feet higher just to be sure.
Davis said there have been many headaches during the last month as he has tried to get clear answers about whether he was in the flood plain and how he can show that his home is built above flood elevation. After talking to Campbell, Boyle Judge-Executive Harold McKinney and multiple phone calls to the Division of Water in Frankfort, Davis said he was informed that his property is in the flood plain and now under flood elevation — by less than an inch.
“It was only six years ago we built and the permit says we aren’t [in the flood plain] but we built higher anyway,” Davis said. “The permit said we didn’t need flood insurance, the bank said it. Now they say the flood plain hasn’t changed but the equipment has changed.”
Davis said the home has never come close to being flooded over the last six years, while buidlings on surrounding land have. He said he worries about what could be as much as $2,800 a year in flood insurance costs and what that — and the general stigma of being designated as part of a flood prone area — will do to the value of the home.
In order to be exempted from the zone, Davis must provide FEMA with scientific evidence that the home is above the required elevation. This means hiring a surveyor, which Davis said will cost more than $500. He said the forms that must filled out to receive an exemption are so complicated it will be even more time-consuming to complete the process.
Campbell, who said the overall benefits of the flood insurance program make it very worthwhile, said the ultimate determination about inclusion in a flood zone and elevation must be made in Frankfort. Unfortunately, Campbell said, that’s the only recourse for those like Davis who dispute the initial judgment
Even though the maps are already being released to communities, Campbell said FEMA has indicated those who purchase insurance before the July date when the new maps are made official should receive insurance based on their existing level of flood risk.