It has been more than 30 years since FEMA’s last major overhaul of flood maps for the New York City region. A lot has happened since that time, most namely, Superstorm Sandy, a destructive and costly 2012 hurricane, which perhaps put FEMA’s map modernization efforts for the area on the fast track. In 2013, FEMA issued a new flood map for the city. If formally adopted, the updated map drastically expands the number of structures in the high-risk flood zone and requires property owners with federally backed mortgages to purchase flood insurance. The city has since appealed the updated map, contending through an independent study that FEMA overstates the number of properties subject to flooding.
In the article New York Disputes FEMA on Flood Risk, the Wall Street Journal reports that New York City, like many communities across the country, is at odds with FEMA’s methodology that depicts who is in or out of the 100-year floodplain. Here are a few highlights:
FEMA’s map, a preliminary document still subject to final approval and its first significant update since 1983, would expand the number of city residents in the 100-year floodplain by 83% to 400,000. It nearly doubles the number of structures in the zone to 71,500.
Now, the city is challenging FEMA’s map, saying it overstates the risk of flooding in much of the expanded flood zone, unnecessarily imposing insurance and other costs on homeowners. In late June, the city released the results of its own analysis, conducted by consulting firm Arcadis, which produced a smaller flood zone, one the city says is more reasonable than FEMA’s.
The city’s map would remove about 26,000 structures and 170,000 people from FEMA’s floodplain, potentially sparing them a steep increase in insurance costs.
FEMA expects to begin talks with the city in coming weeks, said Andrew Martin, the agency’s regional representative. If the city and FEMA can’t agree, the city or FEMA can request a review by the Scientific Resolution Panel, an independent body based in Washington, D.C., or the dispute could end up in federal court.
New York City isn’t the only jurisdiction appealing FEMA’s map. Mr. Martin said the agency has received 190 comments and appeals from communities across New York and New Jersey, 60% of them backed by scientific or engineering data, he said.
This story reiterates the problem with FEMA flood maps: accuracy. As summarized in a previous post, Flood Map Basics, a property’s location is just one of several factors that determine the risk of flooding and proper allocation of flood insurance expenditures.
Flood maps provide broad-brush strokes to determine whether properties are at low to moderate or high risk of flooding. They depict geographical areas, not individual structures and do not take into consideration structures built above the community’s base flood elevation to mitigate flooding. Flood maps, along with elevation certificates, provide the basis of establishing the cost of flood insurance. That is reason enough for all property owners, managers and representatives – commercial and residential alike – to be aware of community flood map changes and to review elevation certificates for errors and omissions.
If you own, manage or represent property subject to flood insurance requirements, be diligent about flood risk. Stay informed of flood insurance rate map changes in your area. Floodsmart.gov offers a search tool that allows property owners to check community map changes by zip code.
Contact AmeriFlood Solutions, Inc. (AFSI) for more information. Ask about AFSI’s complimentary flood risk evaluation performed by an expert team of flood risk professionals.