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A Jan. 14 cutoff hangs over 2,000 property owners to file an appeal to keep their properties outside of newly defined flood zones that will require the purchase of expensive flood insurance. But during the 90-day appeal period, few have done so.
Residents whose properties were identified as at-risk in an updated map that projects flood risk for setting insurance rates were sent letters telling them how to review the map and file an appeal. According to Carl Jones, director of the county’s Building Division and flood plain manager, 2,000 properties were newly designated as within flood risk areas in the preliminary map.
As of Monday, how many appeals had Jones received?
“I’ve had four total,” Jones said.
In October 2014, when the new flood risk map comes into effect, homeowners who either didn’t appeal or who lost their appeal may receive an unwelcome letter from their mortgage company advising they must buy flood insurance for the mortgaged property.
To make matters worse, the updated map will coincide with an increase in flood insurance premium rates through the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012. Congress passed this act to stabilize the National Flood Insurance Program’s $24 billion debt, incurred through compensating destruction caused by hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. The purpose was to put the cost of flood insurance back onto property owners in high-risk areas through annual incremental premium increases and phasing out of subsidies.
One of the four property owners who appealed, Linda Moran of Floral City, said she was concerned that too few people realized they would be affected because they consider their property elevated.
“You might never think that you could end up on a flood map,” Moran said. “But they have done these isolated flood pockets that are maybe the size of your garage.”
These small areas could impact an owner’s mortgage, Moran warned. Such an area showed up in Moran’s yard, so she accumulated data and submitted an appeal to dispute the finding.
Since last summer, the county and the Southwest Florida Water Management District have invited residents to look at where the proposed flood map puts their property.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sent letters to homeowners and published legal notices on Oct. 9 and Oct. 16 in the Chronicle about the proposed flood hazard determinations. According to a letter FEMA sent to Jones, the appeals period was the 90 days following the second legal notice publication on Oct. 16, making Jan. 14 the deadline for receiving an appeal.
Appeals should be submitted to Jones. Jones and his staff have forwarded the information for the four appeals received to a consultant firm, AECOM in Atlanta, Ga., that provides professional technical and management support services. Jones said AECOM would make the final determination about appeals.
According to FEMA’s letter to Jones: “Only appeals of the proposed flood hazard determination that are supported by scientific or technical data can be considered before FEMA makes its final flood hazard determination at the end of the 90-day appeal period.”
“Usually, when someone appeals, they would submit, hopefully, some scientific or technical data to support the appeal,” Jones said.
Historic evidence won’t work.
“If somebody were to send me an appeal and say something along the lines of: ‘I’ve lived here 22 years and I’ve never seen it flood,’ that would not be considered scientific or technical data,” Jones explained. “Only appeals that are supported by scientific or technical data can be considered.”
According to FEMA’s letter, scientific or technical data falls into three determinations: projected rainfall, soil conditions and topography.
“Scientific or technical data would address one of those three,” Jones said.
The flood map is posted on the Internet at www.floodsmart.gov. However, some property owners have reported the website difficult to access. A paper copy is available at the county’s Building Division in Suite 111, 3600 W. Sovereign Path, Lecanto. Call 352-527-5310 for an appointment to review it.
“I have an open door,” Jones said.
Contact Chronicle reporter Chris Van Ormer at 352-564-2916 or email@example.com.