New Flood Zones Worry County
SNOW HILL — New Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) have the Worcester County Commissioners worried due to the unanticipated alterations of floodplains in sections of the county.
“They are kind of not what we expected,” said Development Review and Permitting Director Ed Tudor of the preliminary FIRMs.
For years the impression that Tudor said he has received from agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) is that floodplains were expanding and more areas would likely require flood insurance. But the new maps do not reflect that thinking in Worcester.
“Despite everything that they’ve been preaching to us for the last 20 years about sea level rise and all of these other things that we had to take into account, actually they’re moving out of the floodplain,” Tudor said.
The changes aren’t overt in some parts of the county, but in others the floodplains would be altered noticeably, especially in areas around Assateague, according to Tudor. Shrinking floodplains could cause residents in low-lying areas to skip flood insurance depending on where they fall on the map, warned Commissioner Judy Boggs.
“For new homeowners, too, they’re going to think, ‘well that’s an extra added cost,’” she said. “So they might do without the flood insurance.”
That could be a risky move, agreed Tudor, because even if a property looks to be safe on the new map there are areas that he believed would remain in trouble during a flood event. Boggs made a harsh assessment of the FIRMs, suggesting that there might be financial motivations behind them.
“I’m seeing this as a money issue. That FEMA is paying out too much for flood insurance and they think, if they take homes out of the floodplains or make floodplains elsewhere they won’t have to reimburse so many people,” Boggs said.
While most of the other commissioners remarked that Boggs’ assessment seemed a bit cynical, they all expressed concern over the new maps as well as the Flood Insurance Rate Study (FIS) for Worcester.
“It’s going to get really messy … it’s going to get interesting,” said Commission President Bud Church.
But Tudor explained that new maps will have to be adopted. If not, the results could be “catastrophic.”
“A failure to adopt the new maps and revise our ordinance will result in our suspension from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP),” Tudor wrote in a memo to the commission.
A suspension from that program would carry heavy consequences.
“Property owners will not be able to purchase NFIP flood insurance policies and existing policies will not be renewed. Federal mortgage insurance or loan guarantees will not be provided in flood hazard areas,” Tudor reported. “Federal disaster assistance will not be provided to repair insurable buildings located in identified flood hazard areas from damage caused by a flood. Federal grants or loans for development will not be available in identified flood hazard areas from federal agencies, including the Small Business Administration.”
To avoid any kind of suspension a timeline will have to be followed that results in the ultimate adoption of the new FIRMs. There is, however, still time for input.
“The next step in the process will be the holding of the ‘Coordination and Community Outreach’ (CCO) meeting which is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 25, 2013,” said Tudor. “… we would like to place a link on the county’s website so that as many interested citizens as possible… can see the information prior to the CCO.”
The commission voted to move forward with the CCO.