by Sheila Gardner

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March 11, 2013
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FEMA flood map fight soldiers on

Douglas County commissioners approved spending another $100,000 in their five-year battle against the Federal Emergency Management Agency over flood map errors costing taxpayers thousands of dollars.

The board awarded a contract Thursday with Manhard Consultants LTD for a complete flood impact study and letter of map revision for the Sunrise Pass Wash, Buckbrush Wash and Johnson Lane Wash watersheds.

The contract is not to exceed $250,000 with payment no greater than $100,000 in 2013 and final payment next year, contingent on FEMA approval of the flood impact study.

With these areas, the county would have completed all watersheds improperly mapped by FEMA in 2008.

The money to pay for the contract is an appropriation from the fiscal year 2011-12 opening fund balance.

Jeff House, Manhard vice president and national director of water resources, took the board through the county's five-year battle to have the maps corrected.

The county has been fighting with FEMA over disputed data collected by the agency which placed homeowners in the flood plain.

As a result of that designation, homeowners must purchase flood insurance for approximately 1,000 homes and structures in the flood plain.

The flood insurance can add $800-$900 to homeowners' annual premiums.

Douglas County appealed the base flood elevations and base flood depths proposed by FEMA for multiple flooding sources as shown on the preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Map of April 4, 2008.

"We went deep into the science and proved they (FEMA) were absolutely wrong in several areas," House said Thursday.

After four years of wrangling - estimated to cost taxpayers $500,000 - officials were notified in July that Douglas County prevailed in a ruling from a scientific resolution panel.

Even though the county prevailed, FEMA's response has been less than satisfactory, House said.

"There was no challenging FEMA. That was their modus operandi," he said.

The county is proposing that FEMA return to the 1999 flood maps until the areas in question can be remapped.

The county is seeking reimbursement for residents impacted by the new maps.

Officials enlisted the help of the county's congressional delegation, and returned last week from a National Association of Counties convention in Washington, D.C., where they were able to meet with Sens. Harry Reid and Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei.

"We showed them what's going on," said Commissioner Doug Johnson. "We really have kind of opened Pandora's Box nationwide."

House said Douglas County has stepped into the national spotlight by challenging FEMA. He's presented the county's case at several conferences across the country.

"People are saying, 'Finally. Someone has taken (FEMA) on, and beat them,'" he said.

County Manager Steve Mokrohisky told the board he thought FEMA might be acquiescing to allow the county to remap the flood plain using county data.

"These are the two issues," he said. "No. 1, to tell FEMA to let us remap, and approve the maps as soon as possible to get residents out of the flood plan; and, No. 2, to reimburse residents for flood plain insurance, and taxpayers for these fees as much as FEMA allows."

Commissioner Nancy McDermid likened the issue to "David fighting Goliath, and David won."

Until the issue is resolved and new maps are in place, homeowners must continue to pay flood insurance.

Commissioner Greg Lynn mentioned the efforts of former County Engineer Mahmood Azad who died of a sudden illness in July, the day after the county was notified it had prevailed against FEMA.

Azad convinced the county it had a case against FEMA over the maps, and prepared much of the lawsuit.

"We wouldn't have gotten to this point without Mahmood. He left legacies in many areas. This was just one of them," Lynn said.

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The Record Courier Updated Mar 11, 2013 03:31PM Published Mar 11, 2013 03:26PM Copyright 2013 The Record Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.