Archive for Thursday, July 6, 2000

Troubled waters

New maps show more homes in flood danger

July 6, 2000

Joe and Debbie Stober started building their home on Bluestem Drive in 1998, with the hope of getting out of Overland Park and starting a new life in a small town. Away from the sea of carbon-copy, single-family developments, they hoped to build a home to their specifications. Now, their home built, the Stobers are finding out their home may be in danger from an enemy of devastating potential floods.

In fact, all of Bluestem Drive is considered threatened, according to new, preliminary flood plain maps drawn up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Flood plain maps, administered by FEMA, show which areas are prone to flooding. When the Stobers built their home in 1998, maps adopted in 1981 were still in effect and signaled no threats to developers or builders that their home would be in the plain. According to the 1981 maps, it was far from it.

Houses along Bluestem Drive could be under water in event of a
flood along a tributary of the Wakarusa River, according to newly
proposed maps by FEMA. The red area of the map shows the new
floodplain area submitted for approval.

Houses along Bluestem Drive could be under water in event of a flood along a tributary of the Wakarusa River, according to newly proposed maps by FEMA. The red area of the map shows the new floodplain area submitted for approval.

But things are about to change.

New preliminary maps now indicate the flood plain has risen and include Bluestem Drive, as well as other parts of Eudora. The Stobers have had problems concerning drainage issues before, but this, said Debbie Stober, tops the list.

"This just caps it off here that our house is going to be sitting in a flood plain," she said.

An opposite and equal reaction
A flood plain is considered any area designated by FEMA as prone to flooding. Roger Benson, FEMA national hazards program specialist, said many homeowners are misled by the term 100-year or 500-year flood plain. 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.

"Today, FEMA is very much trying to promote the 1 percent annual chance and the flood plain," Benson said. "Realistically, the 1 percent chance flood plain is the area that can be considered flood prone."

Benson said upstream developments from cities near rivers and continual housing and business developments cause land changes which lead to revisions of flood plain maps. With Eudora, the spur of business and residential growth over the last 10 years has caused a change in the landscape.

"The map revision process is driven by changes in the localities themselves," Benson said. "You may have areas that are still working on maps from 1981 and they may still be accurate. Decisions are made annually by the state and federal officials to remap certain areas. It's a demand-based process. The old squeaky wheel gets the grease."

The preliminary maps on the table aren't exactly brand new. Al Schulz, FEMA regional hydrologist, said revisions to flood plain maps in Eudora and surrounding areas came as part of a maintenance study beginning in September 1993. "This study took a lot more time than most studies do because there's so much going on in and around Lawrence," Schulz said.

In 1997, a public meeting was held by FEMA at the Douglas County City Hall to discuss the study and revisions to the maps. Eudora was invited, Schulz said, but did not attend for reasons unknown.

"We had a meeting in 1997, which Eudora did not attend," Schulz said. "It had to do with the change in political leadership. They really didn't understand what was going on and they didn't think it was important for Eudora to go. I think the current political leadership understands."

City engineer Matt Taylor said current city leaders were not in office when the studies and revisions began.

"Nobody here was in office when this started," Taylor said.

Former Eudora Mayor Jim Hoover said he doesn't recall being contacted about FEMA's revisions.

"I have no idea," Hoover said. "I don't know anything about the FEMA maps."

Despite the three-year communication delay between FEMA and Eudora, the revisions were made. The time is near for adoption of new flood plain maps by Eudora so the city can remain eligible for Federally funded flood plain insurance. Though dated May 31, 2000, the new maps do not properly represent community streets due to the age of FEMA's study. Joe Stober said this is another cause for concern.

"For one thing, they've got this new map and the streets aren't even completed," Stober said.

Schulz said this is part of the process due to the inability to keep up with a community with growth like Eudora's.

"We're charged with mapping the flood plain as they existed at the time of the study," Schulz said. "There are a lot of changes through the study. We cannot keep up with the day to day changes. What we did six months ago may not be reflected on those maps today."

Though the new map may detail how the city stands at present, Benson said it is still better than the alternative.

"It may not be in effect, but it's technically better data than 1981," Benson said. "We want the map to be as accurate as possible. In developing communities, additions are added almost monthly. You'll never get them all on there."

A cause for concern
Kelly Noble also built her home from scratch, moving to Eudora from Tonganoxie in December of 1998. Though she knows little about new maps, she said she has concerns of her property now being in the plain.

"I knew that most of my yard was in a flood plain, but if they're raising the flood plain, I have concerns about how far up it will go," said Noble, a Bluestem Drive resident. "I would think that would make a difference because then a homeowner would have to buy flood insurance."

Noble has good reason to be concerned. If a homeowner has an outstanding loan on a residence within a flood plain, flood insurance is mandatory. Flood insurance is available through most homeowners insurance providers, made available through the Federal government as part of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Flood insurance is not standard in basic homeowners insurance. Benson said many homes damaged in the 1993 flood were not covered, prompting a requirement by the government for the NFIP.

"It's been mandatory to purchase flood plain insurance if you have a loan," Benson said. "Many people in 1993 had loans but didn't have flood insurance. Property owners that are inside the flood plain will be required to buy flood insurance."

Eudora's main flooding sources stem from the Wakarusa River, and two tributaries coming off the river into the city near 10th street.

Anyone building within a flood plain must meet certain requirements. A house's lowest floor, including a basement, must be one foot above the level of the Base Flood Elevation (BFE). The BFE is considered the level which water will rise to in the event of flooding.

"We're not trying to stifle development in flood plains, we're trying to have responsible development," Benson said. "The key issue in flood plains is, if you build to meet the local flood plain ordinance you will be building higher than the 1 percent annual chance. They can used this guidance to build wisely."

To homeowners now in flood plain areas but were not previously, this adds a new requirement the purchase of insurance. David Miller, Miller Insurance Agency, Eudora, said flood insurance isn't part of a homeowner's policy with many homeowners realizing this from flood coverage within recent years.

"We have very little interest in flood insurance," Miller said. "It's usually something we deal with when the lender demands it. I think people in the last few years have learned because of the news coverage in the Midwest that it is not a covered peril."

As an example, one home through his agency has a home not in a flood plain with $150,000 coverage for $276 a year and a $500 deductible. If the same house were in a high-risk flood plain area, the insurance could run $700 annually. Flood insurance, Miller said, could be even more.

"In a few instances that come to mind, it's not that unusual for a high-risk location for the flood premium to be about the same as the regular homeowner premium. Sometimes even more than the homeowners premium."

Though it will become mandatory for homeowners, Benson insists the insurance will be in the best interest of the homeowner.

"The other way to look at it is 'I'm sorry to tell you to be careful,'" Benson said. "To be warned is to be forewarned. On loans, we stop saying please, we now say you must."

In addition to the need for flood insurance, property values can also be affected. Douglas County Appraiser Marion Johnson said home and property values are contingent on the market at the time a house is sold.

"There's no way to tell from the market until the property starts to change hands," Johnson said. "People think it has an effect on value, but there's no way to tell until it changes hands on what the market is going to do."

Johnson said if the current maps were revised, it would take time before any change in values, if any, would be noticeable in the market.

Karen Rowland, Caldwell Banker McGrew Real Estate, said flood plains could have an impact on land values in the market place, as well as the homes they rest on.

"It has an effect on the value of the home," Rowland said. "It's not going to have the same value of a comparable home as compared to an area that's not in the flood plain."

Benson agrees.

"There's no way that we can know (property values)," he said. "If areas are shown in flood plains, it's entirely possible the buying public may consider those areas as flood hazards. It's a questions of the market place dictates what values are."

Options for homeowners
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 states homeowners will have a 90-day comment period from June 29 to contest the FEMA map's finding with their own.

"The appeal period is to allow people to say 'What a minute; this isn't right,'" Benson said. "Only scientific or engineering data can effectively appeal what is shown on the map."

If a home or landowner finds the elevations differ from the maps available at city hall, the findings should be sent to the city, which will then be given to FEMA for dispute. After the 90-day period, a hearing will be held by FEMA in Eudora to discuss the disputes and revisions.

"We'll come to Eudora and we'll want to meet with the mayor and the council and whoever in the public," Schulz said. "Under current Kan. state law, they'll have to update their ordinance to adopt their new maps."

Benson said though there will be 90 days to dispute the maps, there has been no official date set for the hearing.

"Now that the map's out, the meeting should be held," Benson said. "To be honest with you I just haven't scheduled it yet."

Benson said he understands the frustration felt by many homeowners, but the revisions are necessary for a community changing as rapidly as Eudora.

"We want to get the word out that these areas are going to be flood prone," he said. This is one of the very rare situations where a risk can be identified. A lot of people don't like when those changes occur, but they occur."

For more information on the FEMA flood-plain map revisions, contact Matthew B. Miller, PE, Chief, Hazards Study Branch, Mitigation Directorate, 500 C Street SW, Washington, D.C. 20472. Miller can be reached by phone at (202) 646-3461 or E-mail at matt.miller@fema.gov. Comments can also be sent to The Honorable Fred Stewart, Eudora City Mayor, P.O. Box 650, Eudora, Kan. 66025.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.