BOTETOURT – The Planning and Zoning Office has discussed changes FEMA has proposed making to what’s commonly called the 100-year flood plain along Botetourt streams and the James River with 93 property owners since mid-January.
That’s when the Planning and Zoning Office sent letters to 2,757 property owners notifying them that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had completed a new evaluation of the county and in some instances the 100-year flood plain has changed, and if they have a home or building in the flood plain they may need flood insurance.
The new maps were developed by FEMA to reflect current flood risks. The existing flood plain maps are more than 30 years old and date to 1978.
The new maps are digitized and identify Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA) or flood plains.
Property owners who have an insured building located within a SFHA and who have a mortgage from a federally regulated lender are required by federal law to carry flood insurance when these new flood maps become effective.
Many of those visiting or calling the Planning and Zoning Office were questioning how the flood plain changes might affect their new real estate property reassessments.
Reassessment notices went out at about the same time—in fact many property owners received their reassessments and the FEMA letter the same day.
“It’s been a combination of people wanting to know where the flood plain is located (on their property)—whether it’s increased or decreased—and a lot of questions about the flood plain and how that affects the assessment of their property,” Zoning Administrator Chuck Supan explained.
“There are some people who don’t believe the flood plain is based on the history of the property,” Supan said. Some base that on the Flood of 1985, which is considered a 500-year flood.
“But the maps we have are supposed to be the best FEMA is able to do,” Supan continued.
As an example, the new maps are based on 4-foot contours (elevations) while the 1978 maps are based on 20-foot contours. Supan said the company FEMA contracted to update the maps used the best information available to produce the new maps. Dewberry & Davis, a multi-state engineering firm with several offices in Virginia, was contracted by FEMA to do the flood plain mapping.
The new maps also extend the flood plain further up many smaller streams than the 1978 maps, Supan said, which affects many property owners. “A lot of properties were added because the flood plain was extended from 1978,” Supan said, perhaps because of money. But many of those extensions don’t affect buildings, he said.
Property owners most affected by the new flood plain map are those who have homes or buildings that are now in or partially in the new 100-year flood plain.
If they were not in the flood plain under the 1978 map, those homes or buildings may now require flood insurance.
Property owners can check the existing and proposed new flood plain on the county’s geographic information system (GIS) on the county website. The GIS site has overlays for both flood plains, and it shows the location of houses and other buildings.
Supan recommends property owners who have houses close to the flood plain check with their insurance agent.
While the new flood plain maps have generated quite a few questions and concerns, Supan said in the long term the new maps will help the county.
“FEMA’s whole program—it’s taxpayer dollars,” he said. Trying to make people build outside of the flood plain eventually reduces the cost to taxpayers because it reduces the claims—many of which are recurring claims—for buildings damaged by flooding.
Supan said his office isn’t able to answer questions about the effect the flood plain has on property values assigned by the new reassessment. Those questions are being directed to the reassessment firm, Wampler-Eanes, or the Commissioner of the Revenue.
The new flood plain maps are preliminary and also can be viewed at the Planning and Zoning Office through March 30, which is the end of FEMA’s public comment period before the maps are finalized.
During this comment period, citizens have the opportunity to submit technical and/or scientific data to file a protest with FEMA regarding their individual property, or an appeal regarding the accuracy of the mapping process in general.
Supan said in order to appeal the location of the flood plain, the property owner essentially has to provide better information than was used to establish the flood plain map.
To learn more about protests, appeals and to explore other questions about the flood plain, visit the FEMA website at http://www.fema.gov/plan/prevent/fhm/fq_genhm.shtm.
Once the appeals and protests are reviewed and when any needed map changes are incorporated, FEMA will issue a Letter of Final Determination (LFD).
Six months after the LFD, an ordinance approving the new Digital Flood Insurance Rate Map will be adopted by the Botetourt Board of Supervisors. The maps will then become effective, as will any new flood insurance requirements.
The county’s GIS maps with the flood plain overlays are on the county website at www.botetourt.org. Go to the GIS page for instructions.
Citizens wishing to speak with county staff regarding the flood plain maps may make an appointment with the Planning and Zoning by calling 473-8320.