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Flood insurance study might require some to buy coverage

February 28, 2011|By KATE S. ALEXANDER | kate.alexander@herald-mail.com
  • Henry Chau, a Federal Emergency Management Agency mitigation planner, discusses the agency's plans to update its flood insurance study and rate maps during a meeting Monday with local officials.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — Some residents who live near Washington County’s many streams, creeks and tributaries soon could be required to purchase flood insurance.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is updating its flood insurance study and rate maps, and, in Maryland, is using new analytical processes that will improve the accuracy of determining floodplains. The outcome will determine which buildings lie in special flood hazard areas and who needs to buy flood insurance.

Representatives of FEMA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) met with officials from Washington County and its municipalities Monday to discuss preliminary maps and air concerns.

County Public Works Director Joseph Kroboth III said the county has yet to determine how many additional residents will fall into the special flood hazard areas, also referred to as 100-year floodplains.  

Special flood hazard areas are defined as areas that will be inundated by a flood event that has a 1 percent chance of occurring each year, according to FEMA’s website.

Property owners in a special flood hazard area must, by law, purchase flood insurance, and will be subject to FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program floodplain management regulations, according to the site.

Flood damage is not covered by homeowners insurance, Kroboth said.

“It’s a real issue for a person not currently in a floodplain who ends up in one under the new maps,” Kroboth said. “Now, in addition to having to purchase flood insurance, they are subject to the floodplain permitting process if they want to build or expand. It can take years and thousands of dollars in engineering to get permits to build in a floodplain. The state permit fee alone is $1,500.”

It is important for residents to investigate their flood risk status before the new maps go into effect, as those who purchase or update their insurance before the change will be eligible for grandfathered, lower rates, said Henry Chau, mitigation specialist with FEMA.

Washington County has yet to calculate the full impact of the changes on residents, in part, because it plans to appeal key determinations in the preliminary maps, Kroboth said.

He said the county will appeal FEMA’s use of a specific data model used to determine discharge rates for the waterways. In most cases, the rates ranged from 100 percent to 250 percent higher than current rates, he said.

Discharge rates, or the rate of flow for a waterway, directly affects how FEMA determines floodplains, Kroboth said.

What the county really wants to know from FEMA is “the logic behind why they used the numbers they used,” he said.

Despite its concerns with the maps, Mark Stransky, county plan reviewer, said Washington County acknowledged that the maps will be much better than the existing ones.

Chau said the new maps will be digital, easier to update and countywide, unlike current maps that are individual for each municipality.

Residents can determine their flood risk by visiting www.mdfloodmaps.org and clicking on the Flood Risk Application.

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