Proposed FEMA flood mapping may bring homeowner headaches

By John Bernhardt
It was business as usual for the Town of Middletown Planning Board Thursday night.
The board worked industriously on an agenda that included an upgrade of the Comprehensive Plan and review and action of various applications seeking approval of property specification changes.
The real excitement actually occurred after the meeting was adjourned and Town Supervisor Len Utter asked to address the board with a point of information.
Utter informed the board that local supervisors had been informed that FEMA has updated their Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) and new property parcels will be designated as part of the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA), the zone regulated by the National Flood Insurance Program.
According to Utter those changes will impact local homeowners who find their property now located in the SFHA according to the new FIRMs. Communities will eventually be required to adopt the new FIRMs in order to continue to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program. When the new FIRMs are adopted by local communities, property owners may need to obtain flood insurance for structures located on property designated as such. Communities may be required to adopt the new FIRMs as early as August 2010.
Michael Jastremski, stream planner for Delaware County, explained that the changes are part of a nationwide map modernization plan by FEMA. Much has been learned during recent years as a result of floods around the country. New models using more accurate elevation data and other pertinent all- around flood data drove the modernization effort.

Letters planned
According to Jastremski, property owners affected by the changes will receive letters by the end of the September. Owners of property already designated as part of SFHA on the current FIRMs, will receive letters as well as homeowners newly assigned on the updated flood maps. Letters will inform homeowners that a portion of their parcel intersects with some part of the SFHA.
Jastremski said that owners of property newly designated as a SFHA who purchase flood insurance in a timely fashion will be able to obtain their policy at the rate dictated by the current FIRMs. This may mean that a property owner can get a flood insurance policy for a non-SFHA rate. These property owners will be grandfathered after the new FIRMs are adopted by the community and allowed to obtain insurance at the current FIRM rate for one year. In subsequent years, those property owners will receive a discounted rate, providing that they keep their policy up-to-date.
Jastremski further said that folks need not panic when receiving notification. Do some research. If you have a federally backed mortgage and do not already have flood insurance, contact your lender and find out what their policy is concerning requirements that property owners purchase flood insurance. Owners of property previously identified as part of the SHAF are advised to check to make sure their flood insurance is up-to-date.
FEMA officials are planning several events to help provide information and clarity to folks affected by the changes. The first two events are scheduled for later this week and target local officials. FEMA will be meeting with local officials Thursday and Friday to provide background information and details they will need when discussing changes with their constituents. Towards the end of the month, FEMA will also hold an Open House for property owners. Details on this event should be included in the notification letter.
The process of notification should follow these steps: Coordination meetings for municipal and county officials, letters of notification to property owners and a property owners open house.
It is advised that owners of property newly designated as SFHA get flood insurance policies in place at least thirty days before the adoption date. Again, local communities may be required to adopt the new FIRMs as early as August 2010.