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FEMA’s new flood map creates a touch of hell for Paradise residents

November 3rd, 2011 Posted in Opinion

‘They’re absolutely demanding that if you have a mortgage on a property that is in a designated flood area, you must have flood insurance.’ – Mayor Leland Howlett

By D. Whitney Smith

PARADISE — Patience levels crested Wednesday night after a two-hour Town Council discussion, concerning a federal flood-zone assessment that could cost Paradise residents thousands of dollars per year in unsubsidized flood insurance.

A flood insurance rate map drawn up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency recently deemed 29 occupied homes and 32 vacant lots as existing inside a flood-risk zone.

“There’s been varying levels of regulation that have crept in through FEMA,” said Mayor Leland Howlett in council chambers Wednesday. “Basically where it rests today is effective about May; they’re absolutely demanding that if you have a mortgage on a property that is in a designated flood area, you must have flood insurance.”

A federal subsidy called the National Flood Insurance Program reduces insurance rates for mortgage holders, but the caveat is that the town has to write and pass a resolution and ordinance to adopt the program.

“Basically, you end up adopting something that says you’re going to manage all construction and all improvements to anybody’s property,” Howlett said. “I mean, it’s a stinky deal and the right answer is to fix the map. If we sign on, all we’re doing is getting you cheaper insurance for awhile, but we’re not helping anybody who wants to develop in the future, which are the other 30 lots that don’t have houses on them.”

He said he is doubtful that the flood scenario that FEMA engineers predicted is realistic. In order to refute the FEMA map, though, the town would then have to sign up for NFIP and hire its own engineer.

“The problem is there’s only really been one partially legitimate study done of the area” Howlett said, referring to the FEMA insurance study. “They studied the guts out of Logan and Providence and Smithfield, and then all other areas were studied by ‘approximate’ methods.”

Flood planes exist all over Cache Valley, including in Paradise, Trenton and Cornish — the three municipalities in the valley that have not signed up for the NFIP.

“What they’ve worked out is,” Howlett said, “if the communities are not part of this National Flood Insurance Program, then that insurance is still available to mortgage holders, but they take that federal subsidy away, and it just gets ridiculously expensive.”

While the council has yet to adopt the program, resident Jason Summers, who attended Wednesday’s council meeting, said he’s spoken with an engineer about altering his affected property to revise its classification — making it a non-flood zone.

Summers said the engineer he hired said for the town to get the entire flood zone reassessed it would take roughly 12-18 months and $20,000-$30,000.

“I think we get the biggest bang for our buck,” Howlett said, “if we address it right at the top of where they’re saying this flood zone begins, and get that area properly studied.”

He said if the town leaves it up to each individual home and property owner to hire their own engineer for an assessment, the cost would be a lot to cover.

“I don’t want to take it on myself,” said Rosemarie Jorgensen, a Paradise resident who attended the council meeting.

Councilman Kyle Smith said the goal of the council is to work with affected home and property owners to either hire an engineer to develop a plan that would mitigate the flood-risk designation or to adopt a resolution and sign up for the NFIP.

“I guess the question is,” Smith said, “could we do some type of a joint venture thing to attack the top end?”

The council decided to schedule a public hearing at 6 p.m. before the next council meeting Wednesday, Nov. 16 at 7:30 p.m. Council members discussed the idea of inviting NFIP representative John Crofts to attend the hearing to answer questions and explain the insurance subsidy.

“I put together a list of who the 29 home owners are and who the other 30 vacant lot owners are,” Howlett said. “And we probably need to have a separate meeting where we hammer through it and come up with a plan of where we want to go.”

He said there are three options at this point: Each individual home owner can sort it out on their own, the residents could pool their money and pay for the same engineer to do an assessment, or the council could consider a separate tax to insure each home owner pays an equal share to raise money to pay for an engineer.


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