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Feds redefine Newport’s flood zone; city responds with request to shrink it

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Maps from FEMA, left, and Newport Beach, right, show their differing definitions of the city’s flood zone (signified in light green).
(Courtesy city of Newport Beach)

Newport Beach is challenging the federal government’s revised flood zone boundaries in the city, especially around the Balboa Peninsula and Balboa Island, in an effort to save homeowners money on insurance.

Under the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s proposed boundaries, about 4,000 additional property owners on the Balboa Peninsula would have to buy flood insurance, according to Seimone Jurjis, the city’s assistant community development director. The city wants that reduced to about 1,000.

In a letter this month to FEMA, Newport Beach City Manager Dave Kiff asked federal engineers to revisit their proposed flood insurance rate maps after a city consultant used different methods that took into account the city’s seawalls and beach berms, which FEMA did not.

“Owning two properties on (Balboa) Island, it would save me approximately $6,400 a year,” Councilman Jeff Herdman said. “That’s pretty significant.”

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Kiff cited technical studies and methods the consultant, Everest International Consultants of Long Beach, used along Newport Harbor, Newport Bay and Newport Coast when determining the risk during a 100-year flood.

Samir Ghosn, an engineer with the city, showed the City Council the FEMA and local maps at a study session this month.

“Much of the extent of the flooding has been reduced based on the fact that we’ve utilized a better modeling system and more accurate data,” Ghosn said.

The most recent area flood insurance study before this was done in the late 1980s.

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Flood insurance rates vary by distance from the base flood elevation, which for FEMA is eight feet on the inland and harbor sides and 22 feet on the coastal side. That could mean a cost of $2,000 to $5,000 a year for property owners in the flood zone, Jurjis said.

It also could mean building new coast-facing homes four to 13 feet above the sand.

Jurjis said the city can appeal FEMA’s maps later or try to get ahead of the curve during the current feedback period, which he said is easier.

He said neighboring coastal cities aren’t pushing back against their revised flood maps.

“I’ve spoken to a couple of the cities in the area, and a lot of them are doing nothing. They’re kind of sitting back and they’re saying, ‘It’s FEMA. It’s the federal government; we can’t do anything,’ ” Jurjis said. “I think we are being the most proactive in hiring a consultant and trying to find a solution to this.”

He said he expects a response from FEMA within 45 to 60 days.

hillary.davis@latimes.com

Twitter: @Daily_PilotHD

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