Accuracy of new maps called into question
Recently homeowners near Mammoth Creek have found themselves underwater, and it has nothing to do with the downward trend of the real estate market.
Residents in Snowcreek II and IV have been told that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) changed its vertical data records and the new lines that have been drawn for flood zones put units in each of these complexes in the line of water.
The result: these homeowners are now required to acquire flood insurance, which is “not inexpensive,” according to State Farm Insurance agent Linda Wright.
It would be one thing if the new flood zones were accurate, but the homeowners don’t believe that they are, which is why they have been working with Triad/Holmes Associates to survey the areas and gather what they believe will be accurate data that might get FEMA to reverse the newly designated floodplain boundaries.
“We are being forced to spend a lot of money to straighten out issues in an area where problems appear to be caused by inaccurate placement of buildings on floodplains,” said Snowcreek II HOA President Bill Graham.
Some believed that the Town of Mammoth had sent incorrect data to FEMA to use when it was drawing the new lines. Nate Greenberg, GIS Coordinator for the Town and Mono County, however, said this is far from true.
“The data came out of FEMA,” Greenberg explained. “It was an independent set of circumstances that put this into motion.”
It seems that the FEMA Flood Map Modernization Program is the cause for the updates. However, no one seems to know where FEMA collected its data.
“The new lines are drawn from a new floodplain study that FEMA did recently,” said Tom Platz, Principal Engineer/Project Manager at Triad. “We don’t know where they got their information.”
“FEMA released a new set of maps,” Greenberg added. “By error or by better data being available, the maps show a change in the vertical benchmark.”
The new study also puts Mammoth Mountain Ski Area about 6 feet higher, Graham said.
According to ncseonline.org (the website for The National Council for Science and the Environment, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving the scientific basis for environmental decision-making), “For FY2009, President Bush requested $151 million to finalize implementation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)’s Flood Map Modernization (Map Mod) Initiative (FMMI) and its ongoing Map Mod program. FEMA introduced the FMMI in September 1997 as a strategic plan to convert paper flood insurance rate maps (FIRMs) to digital electronic format, or DFIRMs. DFIRMs contain more accurate spatial measurements and digital data associated with flood hazards and are developed with an automated geographic information system (GIS) that also facilitates mandatory periodic updating of flood maps and helps to determine flood insurance risk.”
Wright’s office received a letter from FEMA explaining the situation. It states that in 2003 Congress passed a law and appropriated funding to FEMA to create the Flood Map Modernization Program.
“As a result, some property owners now find themselves in high-risk areas where they are now required by lenders to purchase flood insurance,” the letter continued.
According to the information that Wright had, the remapping was done on Feb. 18. She explained that the cost of flood insurance varies for each flood zone designation.
“Flood zones B, C and X are eligible for preferred risk policies,” Wright said. “Any type of zone A or V require flood zone insurance by lenders.”
The frustrating part for homeowners, Wright continued, is that even if one corner of a five-unit building is in the flood zone that requires insurance, all of the units must get the insurance policy.
Wright explained that the results of the Triad surveys could be used as part of a Letter of Map Amendment, or LOMA.
“Our surveys have shown that the buildings in Snowcreek IV are above the level of floodplain,” Platz said. Triad has not yet begun to survey Snowcreek II.
“We will be filing a LOMA which goes to first to the Town and then to FEMA,” Platz continued. “We will be trying to remove the buildings from the flood plane with the data.”
In an effort to relieve some of the burden of these new costs to homeowners, the letter from FEMA stated that it would extend eligibility for low-cost preferred risk flood insurance policies for qualifying properties for two years.
“Existing policies on remapped properties that meet certain loss history requirements may qualify for a 2 year extension in the Preferred Risk Policy beginning at the next renewal after January 1, 2011,” the letter explained.
Eventually, however, if the Triad surveys and the LOMA do not reverse the mapping, all affected homeowners would be required to pay the higher insurance premiums.