February 03, 2011

Flood Mapping Flaws Bring Broad Response

Property owners can be hurt by FEMA actions related to insurance costs

Washington, D.C. - Problems with the way the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) conducts federal flood mapping have resulted in a broad-based, bipartisan call for change that straddles state and federal jurisdictions. Twenty-seven members of the U.S. Senate, a considerable bipartisan group pointing out the importance of the issue, have joined with Idaho Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch in a letter to FEMA officials calling for changes in the way federal flood plain maps are drawn. Outdated methods of FEMA planning can drive up the costs for insurance to property owners who find themselves designated as inside a federal flood plain area, despite existing protections.

The Senators say that too often, the agency ignores the existence of levees or other structures that can affect the extent of flood damage, forcing property owners to purchase costly flood insurance that may not be needed. "'Without levee' modeling methods assume an existing levee or flood control structure that exists in physical reality does not exist for the purposes of modeling, reducing the precision of flood maps and eroding public confidence in the mapping process itself," wrote Crapo, Risch and other Senators in the letter to FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. The Idaho Senators say they have been urged to act by members of the Idaho Legislature and state officials. The issue has affected residents ranging from Idaho's Silver Valley to the Treasure Valley.

"We support FEMA's efforts to maximize taxpayer dollars by choosing simpler, more cost effective modeling techniques when appropriate. However, in cases where FEMA treats a flood control structure as if it has been completely wiped off the map, we may be unnecessarily devaluing property and hurting the economies of cities, towns, counties and businesses. This approach is particularly troubling since FEMA has the tools at its disposal to obtain more precise data," the Senators added.

The Senators agreed with Idaho officials that the so-called "without levees" analysis can result in inaccurate maps and force property owners to purchase costly and unneeded flood insurance policies that can run as high as $2,000 annually. They said FEMA can correct the process by working more closely with local communities to ensure that correct modeling and recognition of structures like levees are correctly represented when federal flood maps and documents are created.

The matter was brought to the attention of the Senators by Idaho State Senator Joyce Broadsword of Sagle. Col. Bill Shawver of the Idaho National Guard helped confirm how FEMA mapping was conducted and provided a statewide view of the problem.