Thursday, February 18, 2010
Officials introduce new flood plain maps
By SUE WATSON
Officials with Marshall County, the City of Holly Springs and the Town of Byhalia were in attendance Wednesday as state officials introduced the new flood plain maps and requirements.
The public was invited to attend but only three individuals came in to see the maps and discuss their concerns with the experts.
Once the maps are officially adopted in late 2011, homebuyers, developers, mobile home buyers and the public in general will have to comply with new codes that require any newly added structure placed in the county to be at least one foot above the high risk flood zone, according to Al Goodman Jr. with Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.
Individuals are not required to have flood insurance unless they are located in Zone A or Zone AE, designated as at high risk for flooding, he said.
“In any given year, there is a one percent chance flooding will occur and anything one percent or more is considered high risk,” Goodman said. “Most of the county is not in the flood plain.”
People will notice if they are located in a high-risk zone when their banker calls to say they have to buy flood insurance, he said.
Or if an individual applies for a federally-backed housing loan, flood insurance will be required if locating in a flood plain. Renters living in a flood zone will need flood insurance to protect against damage of contents.
People who are renting need to see if they need flood insurance on their contents so they don’t get into a Katrina-type situation, Goodman said.
Developers or builders and anyone wanting to place a mobile home in a high-risk zone will hear about elevation requirements when they go before a planning commission to request a permit. Copies of the new maps, which are aerial maps with flood plain zones stippled and outlined in blue, are now available for public viewing at the Marshall County Zoning office, and at the Holly Springs and Byhalia and Potts Camp town halls.
The maps are not official, however, and won’t be until all requirements for public notification and comment have been completed.
There are three types of flood zones - low, moderate, and high risks zones. The high risk zone is generally called the flood plain.
There are several situations that the homeowner, homebuyer or developer should pay attention to with regard to new maps.
Some individuals who live in homes or operate businesses that are already built may find that their structures are not in the flood plain on the new map but were on the old map. In instances where a structure was not in the flood plain on the old map, but is on the new map, changes in insurance requirements may take place.
In cases where an individual has bought land and finds out his land is not any good for building, the person can build in a flood plain and get a building permit from the zoning board, provided he gets an engineer to determine the flood plain elevation. Construction permits can be issued if the structure is built one foot above the established flood plain elevation in an area. Dirt may be brought in to raise the elevation one foot above the flood plain, a house or structure could be built on stilts, and so forth, to raise the new structure above the flood stage.
Any new construction built since August 4, 1986, should have been built to or above the base flood elevation, if it was built or placed in a high-risk flood zone, Goodman said.
“People who were not in the A or AE zone, but are now, should buy flood insurance two months before the maps go effective,” Goodman said. “FEMA will send a letter of final determination to the communities which will list the effective date of the maps.”
There will be much more to understand before zoning departments in counties and citizens will know how to handle building in flood plains, said Ronnie Joe Bennett, District 5 supervisor.
“We need a firm understanding from the federal government and FEMA-MEMA,” he said. “Even our zoning administrator and we ourselves do not understand it all right now. It has to be fine-tuned.”
Zoning administrator Conway Moore said she served 18 years in her capacity and only one person has come in to ask her about the new maps and requirements.
“He said he was coming back and I haven’t seen him again,” she said.
The process of making the new maps official will take nearly two years and includes the following steps already taken and future steps:
• Marshall County and the communities of Byhalia, Holly Springs, and Potts Camp are members of the National Flood Insurance Program and have been a participating partner since August 4, 1986, Goodman said.
• Marshall County became a member of the fiscal year 2007 map modernization budgeted communities. A scoping meeting was held in April 2008.
• preliminary maps were delivered to the county and communities in December 2009.
• a 90-day protest/appeal period will begin after a notice has been placed in the Federal Register and a second publication in the local paper.
• after any protests or appeals are resolved, communities have six months to adopt the maps before a final process begins.
• once maps are adopted as final, lending institutions and mortgage companies must require properties now located in high-risk zones to carry flood insurance.
Any structure that was not in a high-risk zone, but is now in a high risk zone, can be insured at a reduced rate for one year while the new maps are waiting for adoption. The rates go back to standard locked-in policy rates once maps are official. If no policy is purchased before the map becomes official, then banks will require a borrower to purchase flood insurance at the full rate. Thousands of dollars can be saved on preferred risk policies if purchased prior to the date maps become effective.
Some banks are demanding their loans be covered now, Goodman said, and they have the right to do so before the maps go into effect.
If a person has already built in an area that was not listed in the flood plain on the old map but is listed in the flood plain in the new map, the property may be grandfathered in at the old insurance rates. The property owner should keep a copy of the old map and take that map to their insurance agent, Goodman said.
“Say, I am grandfathered,” he said. “If it floods or a tornado hits and I rebuild, I have to rebuild at the new flood elevation.”
For the person who builds before the new flood plain maps become effective, he may be grandfathered in but once the new maps go into effect, he has to buy flood insurance, Goodman said.
For the person who tries to get his new elevation correct, then builds and finds the elevation used was a few inches or feet below the flood plain, Goodman said local officials give their best elevation information. If it does flood, is the community (county or municipal government) liable?
Goodman said the community can require the builder to hire an engineer to determine the base flood elevation (BFE) prior to construction. The requirement to determine the BFE must be put into an ordinance to protect the government entity from liability, he said.
The National Flood Insurance Program was established under the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1968, then was moved under the Federal Emergency Management Agency when it was created in 1979. So the program has been around for a long time, Goodman said.
FEMA began working to modernize the maps in 2003 upon an initiative put forward by president George W. Bush and adopted by Congress that required all-digital maps of the whole nation.
Mississippi signed on as a cooperating technical partner with FEMA in January 2003 under the signature of Gov. Ronnie Musgrove.
The importance of flood insurance was brought home in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina wreaked the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States.
The National Flood Insurance Program can borrow money from the U.S. Treasury to pay back debt when the fund gets low on money or runs out of money, Goodman said.
“The fund has been operating in the red since 2005 when Katrina wiped out communities on the Mississippi and Louisiana Gulf Coast,” he said.
There has always been a map, but there is now a new one and the entire state is mapped for flood zones. Since the project is nationwide, each state has been mapped and flood plains marked.
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