New FEMA maps take effect in April – insurance cost may skyrocket
By Elsa Maxey
Next month, newly revised FEMA flood maps become official and changes on the flood maps could affect the cost of homeowners’ insurance. Updated digital flood Insurance rate maps required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have been about nine years in the making with intervention by officials in Fort Bend County. The county worked closely with FEMA on the remapping project, part of a nationwide effort for documenting and charting flood zones nationwide.
Cities in the county, responsible for seeing that flood plain management standards are met, are members of the national flood insurance program helping property owners purchase flood insurance. Maps that include designated flood hazard areas prone to flooding are used to determine the cost of a flood insurance policy.
“I believe the new flood maps are the most accurate flood maps in the nation, primarily due to the County and the City of Sugar Land joining forces to fund a LIDAR survey of the Brazos River and Oyster Creek to enhance the accuracy of the flood modeling,” Fort Bend County Judge Bob Hebert told the Star about the area’s maps. LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) is a remote sensing method used to examine the surface of the earth and the systems used allow mapping professionals to examine natural and man made environments with precision. Judge Hebert said the study, a “$1.1 million investment, assured an extremely high degree of accuracy in the calculation of the 100 year flood elevations throughout the county.”
The FEMA mapping project has changed flood elevations throughout the county, confirms Judge Hebert, but because “the maps were published over a year ago,” some property owners may have appealed their property’s elevation and maybe even won the appeal. “Even now, property owners may request a letter of map revision if they can prove their property elevation is in error,” said Judge Hebert.
There are now some property owners in a flood plain without benefit of a levee and these are the ones facing flood insurance premiums of up to 1500% in some cases. This is because the national flood insurance program re-authorization of 2012 ended, which included grandfathering provisions. This problem has been addressed in an amendment to the national flood insurance program called the Grimm amendment, advises Judge Hebert. It passed both houses of Congress and has been sent to President Obama to sign into law.
In the meantime, if a property owner’s flood zone status has changed and since the national flood insurance program is administered by FEMA, it will notify individuals if their status is changed. “Any notice would have to take into account provisions of the Grimm Amendment which won’t become law until signed by the President,” cautions Judge Hebert.
At this junction, Fort Bend County’s proactive success takes into account areas protected by levees locally, which were built some time ago and conform to federal regulations setting national standards for a protective levee. “Our levees are considered fully protective,” said Judge Hebert. But because the National Flood Insurance Program will have to be reauthorized in 2017, “we have another fight ahead of us,” referring to the treatment of “our levee protected property in the same manner as property located naturally above the 100 year elevation” for national flood insurance purposes.
If property owners believe their property has been wrongly designated as flood hazard area, a “Letter of Map Amendment” from FEMA may be requested for an area on high ground that has not been fill elevated and would not be deluged with water in a major rain event. A licensed engineer or surveyor will need to confirm and document these facts, reportedly costing about $500. For many, probably a small price to pay considering the high flood insurance cost alternative. To determine the flood prone status of a property, in Fort Bend County, visit fbcmap.co.fort-bend.tx.us/floodplainmap/
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