County wins FEMA flood maps appeal
After four years of disputing data used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to develop flood maps for Carson Valley, officials were notified Wednesday that Douglas County prevailed in a ruling from a scientific resolution panel.
County Manager Steve Mokrohisky said officials were notified that based on the submitted scientific and technical information by Douglas County and FEMA, the panel determined that FEMA’s data did not satisfy National Flood Insurance Program mapping standards and must be revisited.
Officials have scheduled a meeting with FEMA representatives in early August to discuss next steps, timing and funding for remapping the flood areas, he said.
“This is an outstanding victory for our residents,” Mokrohisky said. “We anticipate the result will be new FEMA flood maps that utilize accurate data and ultimately reduce the cost of flood insurance for our residents.”
He estimated the county spent $500,000 challenging the FEMA maps, and would seek a refund from the federal agency.
“We’ve invested half a million dollars in costs to remap various areas which allowed us to increase scientific and technical data necessary to challenge the FEMA maps which led to the successful outcome. At the very least, FEMA needs to fund mapping the additional areas. We’re talking about a refund to the county for the areas we’ve already done,” Mokrohisky said.
If the county is able to quantify whether homeowners in the flood plain paid higher insurance premiums because of the erroneous information, Mokrohisky said officials would advocate on their behalf.
Inclusion in the floodplain means that homeowners must purchase flood insurance for their parcels that can add $800-$900 a year to premiums.
He said the August meeting would be at staff level, and officials would meet with the public as soon as they have direction.
“What this means, when will we remap – we just don’t have the answers to those questions. We know areas need to be remapped, we know the data FEMA used was flawed. The county’s position is FEMA needs to reimburse the county and residents for costs because of the flawed maps, and fund future remapping,” Mokrohisky said.
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, dated April 4, 2008.
When the appeal failed to resolve the dispute, the county filed suit against FEMA in U.S. District Court on Sept. 17, 2009, alleging that FEMA’s data and analyses were scientifically or technically incorrect, which is the sole statutory basis of an appeal.
On Oct. 28, 2011, the parties entered into a settlement agreement calling for adjudication of the appeal by the panel as described by FEMA.
“The appeal has been complex in that many aspects of the hydrologic and hydraulic modeling, as well as the accuracy of the mapping, were contested for multiple flooding sources,” Mokrohisky said.
Mokrohisky said he expected the Douglas County case to be a national model for local communities that choose to challenge FEMA’s mapping of their floodplains.
“We’ve been actively involved in this for the last four years. We believe that generally the way we went about it, and fought it for four years, we did everything we needed to do to make the case and we were successful,” Mokrohisky said.
Mokrohisky said the county and its residents, with support from various consultants, including Manhard Consulting Ltd, R.O. Anderson Engineering Inc., and Wood Rodgers Inc., identified 12 technical issues to be addressed by the SRP.
“Many people contributed to the successful outcome of this issue, but no single person worked as hard, as passionately or as long as our former County Engineer Mahmood Azad,” Mokrohisky said.
County officials were notified that Azad died suddenly this week.
“Those of us who knew Mahmood understand the passion and vigor that he brought to his work and we are grateful for his efforts on behalf of our residents. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family at this sad time,” Mokrohisky said.
Azad was a storm water management expert and led Douglas County’s early efforts to challenge and ultimately appeal the FEMA flood maps.