Designated floodplain areas to change in new FEMA maps

Posted: Thursday, December 09, 2010

The city floodplain maps are outdated by 20-30 years. They're in the process of being updated, but with more precise engineering methods some property owners may require flood insurance, while others may no longer need it.

The draft versions of the new flood maps have been completed by a firm hired by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

City and Borough of Juneau Community Development planner Eric Feldt said the maps were last updated in 1980 and 1990.

"They're difficult to read, they're outdated and they make flood determinations difficult," he said. "The new maps are digitized. We can put them into a computer system and overlay that on an aerial image."

Flood regulations, which come from FEMA, might change when the draft maps become effective.

"The regulations are required to be adopted so a community can remain in good standing with the National Flood Insurance Program so communities can have flood insurance," Feldt said.

Feldt said he hopes the new draft maps will become effective next year.

"The coastal areas will see a slight increase in flood elevation," he said. "The increase will be more of a vertical increase. The rivering areas will have a negligible change."

Feldt said his department hasn't gotten to the point where they can cite exactly how many and which properties will be affected by the change.

"We're in the middle of doing that right now," he said.

Affected property owners will be given some form of public notice, Feldt said.

There also will be a 90-day appeal period that FEMA provides for every community. Feldt believes that will start sometime in January.

"During that period, the general public and the city can appeal how the data was used to come up with certain flood limits," he said. "As FEMA was describing what you can appeal, just by saying 'my property hasn't flooded in 40 years, I disagree with the map' isn't something necessarily that can be repealed. It's not something FEMA can use to quantify the data they have on the appeal. What they're looking for is engineered documentation showing that Northwest Hydraulics' modeling and computation had some error or there is more site-specific information on that particular land (they) didn't have at the time they prepared the draft maps."

Interested citizen Erich Schall attended a FEMA-hosted meeting recently about the maps and said it's important for homeowners to get involved early on because once the maps are accepted, it will be incredibly difficult for the determination to change.

"There have been some pieces of property that have been disputed already," he said. "... The process is very valid, it's important. People in the flood plains need to be protected. Citizens will help make this map as accurate as possible."

After that process ends, FEMA sends the city a letter of final determination and the community will have a limited time to adopt the new maps.

Feldt said the two most important things for people to realize is how this will affect their property and how it affects construction.

He suggested people who currently pay for flood insurance to go over the new maps with their insurance provider to see what their options are.

As far as construction, it could affect what can be constructed in that area, so vacant lot owners need to be aware of possible changes.

"People can build in a flood plain," Feldt said. "They can't build in a floodway."

For more information or to see the drafted flood maps and effective maps go to:

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at

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