Archive for Thursday, August 3, 2000

Residents look for flood plain answers

FEMA comes to Eudora, speaks on map revisions

August 3, 2000

Nearly 30 people showed up at Eudora's City Hall on July 26, hoping to find answers to questions concerning revised flood plain maps for the city.

In June, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced it had completed revisions to flood plain maps for Eudora. The current maps were adopted in 1981.

Roger Benson, FEMA national hazards program specialist, said Eudora's growth made the revisions necessary. The study for the new maps began in 1994 and concluded in 1996, but Benson said Eudora's constant development has made publishing the maps difficult.

"It's mainly because new data was presented that we wanted to get in, so we kept going back and adapting it," Benson said. "The flood of 1993 probably started the wheels rolling. There was a great need for better maps so developers could take into account potential flooding. The last thing you want is a new map in place that's wrong."

Benson said flood plains are considered areas designated by FEMA as prone to flooding. He said many homeowners are misled by the term 100-year or 500-year flood plain, which is commonly associated with the maps. A 100-year flood plain actually means a designated area has a 1-percent chance annually of being flooded. A 500-year flood plain has a .02-percent chance of flooding annually.

FEMA hired Kansas City, Mo. engineering firm George Butler & Associates to tackle the study. Ted Martin, project manager for the firm, said though the maps may not show exact details, they act as more of a guide.

"It's like a warning light that says you're out of oil," Martin said. "It doesn't tell you how much, just that you're in danger."

Homeowners questioning whether their home is in a flood plain can contact the city to find out their standing. If homeowners are in a flood plain and have a mortgage on their home, flood insurance provided by the federal government though local insurance companies is mandatory. Currently, a home's lowest floor, including basements, must be one foot above the base flood elevation as designated by the maps.

However, there may be loopholes.

enson said if homeowners can show they are higher than the new maps say, they can appeal with a letter of map amendment and be removed from mandatory flood insurance. There is no cost for submitting a letter of map amendment for single-family residences but homeowners must pay for the cost of the study by an engineering firm of their choosing.

"The map amendment process is another mechanism for property owners," Benson said. "These things are indicators. When it gets down to the details, it's up to the individual."

Mike Van Deelen, Eudora, questioned whether the city should be liable for allowing developers build homes in areas though not classified as flood plains at the time.

"Don't you think the city is negligible?" Van Deelen asked.

Benson disagreed.

"The ordinance that is your legal instrument is the 1981 maps," Benson said. "Until they change, that's the map to use.

It was also questioned asked whether the city was responsible for not planning better for Eudora's growth.

"Our city is where it is because of a mistake made by the city not addressing future development," one audience member said.

Benson said even if the city had knowledge of pending maps, it would still require developers and builders to use the 1981 maps.

Duane Gentleman , Eudora Planning and Zoning Commission Member, agreed the city had no legal obligation to hold developers to any pending maps.

"When the ordinance reads 1981, you can't legally hold them," Gentleman said.

"The hope is that the developer's are developing wisely, but the old map is the current one," Benson said.

Martin agreed. He said the city couldn't hold developers to a pending revised map. He also said many developments never get off the ground, making it hard to hold them to any pending maps. The current maps, even if dating back to 1981, must be used until new ones are approved.

"There are a lot of plats out there that are just pipe dreams," Martin said.

Some audience members voiced concerns on why city officials were not at the meeting to answer questions.

"Where is the mayor?" asked Janet Stewart, a Bluestem Drive resident. "Is there any representative from the city here?"

"Are there any elected officials here?" Benson asked.

None were present to answer the call. The only elected official present during the meeting was Eudora City Council President Rex Burkhardt, who left as the meeting appeared to be winding down after nearly an hour. Planning and zoning commission members present were: Gentleman, Ken Adkinson and Glen Bartlett. Kurt von Achen, commission chairman, was also present at the meeting but left as the meeting appeared to be winding down.

With some officials not present, it provided fodder for some audience members to share their disgust.

Van Deelen suggested that von Achen, who owns a Eudora architect firm, makes money off of all single-family developments in Eudora. Van Deelen called upon Marge Gronniger, city treasurer, to back up his statement. Gronniger disagreed.

"No sir, I don't think you're correct on anything you're saying," Gronniger said.

In a phone interview on Monday, von Achen also said the accusations were incorrect. He said his firm deals with businesses, mostly outside Eudora.

"I've never had anything to do with any houses in Eudora," von Achen said. "I don't get any money."

Despite accusations, Benson said officials could help out with the appeals process if enough residents choose to do so. He suggested residents contact city officials on how to package the appeals, then sending it to FEMA for submittal of approval. The maps now available are considered preliminary until adopted by the city and FEMA. Effective June 29, the legal notice of FEMA's map revisions was published twice in a local publication as required by the federal government. The notice stated homeowners have a 90-day comment period from June 29 to contest the FEMA map's finding with their own.

Though the map revision process seems like a hassle, Benson said, the time is now for Eudora to adopt the new maps. As the city continues to grow, it will need these maps to help insure better development and planning for the future.

"If we wait until all development ends, we'll all be buried," Benson said. "You have to just do it."

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