The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been working for years on a program to revise and update its maps of coastal and riverine flood zones, which the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) uses to determine flood insurance rates, and which local governments have to use to mark the boundaries of areas where flood-resistant construction methods are required by code (that is, if the towns and cities want homeowners to be eligible for flood insurance).
FEMA's new maps have been coming to coastal areas piecemeal, as the agency goes through the painstaking process of re-surveying ground and analyzing weather and topography data. This winter and spring, it's Sarasota County, Florida's turn to get some new maps — and, as in other localities, not everyone is pleased.
The Sarasota Herald-Tribune has a report (see: "Scrutiny of new FEMA flood maps grows," by Zac Anderson.) "The methods used to add another 42,700 Sarasota County properties to high-risk flood zones are coming under increasing scrutiny as a 90-day appeal period for the new flood maps begins Friday," the paper reports.
Officials say some of the high water envisioned by the new mapping isn't such a big deal. "Better mapping of inadequate stormwater drainage systems is one of the prime reasons the county's high-risk zones are expanding so dramatically," the paper reports. "But some local officials question whether the relatively minor flooding that typically occurs from these overflows should be treated as a major hazard that requires people to purchase flood insurance and submit to more stringent development regulations."
"We've got to get more information and try to work with FEMA so we don't kill our economy with this," Sarasota County Commissioner Charles Hines told the paper. "You could take whole neighborhoods and potentially make them unsellable."
Once an appeal is filed with FEMA, there is no fixed timeline for resolving the issue. But there is a 90-day deadline for filing the appeal in the first place — and it's not an easy thing to do, the paper reports: "Anyone can file an appeal, but there are major hurdles that make the process difficult for average homeowners. Scientific evidence must be submitted demonstrating that the mapping process was inaccurate. Local governments and large landowners are more likely to have the resources and technical expertise to challenge the maps."
Appeals tend to be rare, state official J. P. Marchand told the paper: "In Manatee County, which recently went through the same remapping process and had 9,040 properties added to high-risk flood zones, there were only three appeals and one written comment. All were successful in getting the maps revised."