Proposed Floodplain Changes Draw Skepticism

By Beacon Staff

Representatives from federal and state agencies held a meeting with Flathead County officials last week to discuss impending changes to the floodplain map in Evergreen.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is in the process of updating Evergreen’s flood insurance rate map (FIRM). The map tracks the area’s floodplains for flood management and insurance reasons.

County commissioners expressed confusion about the necessity of the changes, which currently add about 1,000 parcels of land to the 100-year floodplain.

According to David Jula of Michael Baker Jr., Inc., which FEMA contracted for the project, an Evergreen landowner went to a senator from South Dakota with concerns about accuracy within the current FIRM, launching a congressional inquiry into the matter.

FEMA received technical survey data disputing the map’s accuracy and began the updating process.

“So, one property owner can cause mayhem?” Commissioner Pam Holmquist asked.

Jula said anyone with technical data could begin the process. Holmquist responded that she didn’t understand why a congressional inquiry was necessary to indulge one landowner.

“I find it interesting he didn’t go to a Montana senator,” Holmquist said.

Commissioner Jim Dupont asked if requests for FIRM updates from one landowner were normal, to which FEMA representatives said they were. Jula said FIRMs get updated across the country every week.

Changes in a FIRM can affect property owners in several ways, with the biggest being flood insurance.

A 100-year floodplain designation means a property has a 1 percent chance of flood-level water on the property any given year. Though law does not mandate flood insurance, there are times when a landowner can be compelled to purchase coverage.

A landowner whose designation changes from a 500-year floodplain to a 100-year floodplain would have higher flood insurance rates, according to Flathead County Planning and Zoning Director BJ Grieve.

Grieve also administers the county’s floodplain management regulations, which are necessary if the county wants to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program. This program provides participating counties with federally subsidized flood insurance.

According to the July 28 presentation, structures added to the floodplain will receive preferred risk policy insurance rates for two years. After that, grandfathered rates would be available.

In this scenario, the owner of a structure worth $100,000 with $40,000 worth of goods inside would have an annual flood insurance premium of $304 for the first two years. After that, the standard policy would cost $1,004 a year.

FEMA representative Sara Brush told the commission that after the July 28 meetings, the map changes would be sent to the federal register and the base flood elevations would be published twice in the local newspaper.

The second publication kicks off a 90-day appeal period, during which people can submit technical data – such as engineering and survey reports – to dispute the changes.

Once the appeals are resolved, Brush said FEMA would issue a letter of final determination, followed by a six-month compliance and adoption period, before the changes take effect.

Representatives from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation said the state’s engineers would weigh in on protests and appeals.

U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester and Congressman Denny Rehberg had representatives at the July 28 meeting as well.

Physical copies of the FIRM updates are available at the Flathead County Planning and Zoning Office. A digital copy of FEMA’s presentation, including a map detailing land added to the 100-year floodplain, is available at www.flathead.mt.gov/planning_zoning.

Questions and comments about the FIRM changes should be directed to FEMA’s Region VIII office in Denver, available at (303) 235-4871.

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