Communities across the US are appealing new flood maps that will rezone many of their homes and businesses as being in a flood plane, forcing them to spend thousand on expanded insurance, and devaluing their property.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) began in 2004 with a $200 million a year budget, utilizing new mapping technology to better identify areas of the US that are prone to flooding.
Some re-zoning has already been approved in many areas, but many local communities are challenging the new zoning, which they say is a source of economic hardship for many, while others challenge the accuracy of the agency’s findings.
"Anyone building new construction, they are probably not going to settle here," Oakville, Iowa Mayor Benita Grooms told the Associate Press. "Why would they if they have to build their homes up so high and pay $2,000 for flood insurance?"
Residents of the Iowa town have complained that FEMA’s new map shows a flood plain along the east side of that town’s Main Street, while the west side of the street is not.
"The east side is in the flood plain and the west side is fine — it's odd that the water will stop at Main Street," local resident Doug Boyer told AP.
Barre, Vermont’s city planning director Mike Miller told AP that new FEMA maps in his community show 20 percent more flood plains than are currently zoned , and would seriously undermine many redevelopment projects that are currently ongoing.
Kaleb Kentner, the community development director of Garden City, Kansas, defended his municipality’s lawsuit against the federal government, telling AP, that homeowners along the cities decades-old drainage ditches were now designated a flood prone area, despite no history of flooding in the area.
Linn County, Iowa planning and zoning director Les Beck said in his community, streams that appear on existing aerial maps don’t show up in the same places on FEMA’s electronic maps.
"You overlay the maps and it's just not the same," Beck said. "It's in a different location,” he said.
FEMA has defended the program, saying that the program will prevent billions of dollars of damages by updating zoning. FEMA spokesman Josh deBerge said that overall, few changes have been made to the maps, and the ones that have were due only to advances in technology.
"When home and business-owners know and understand their risk, they are more likely to take steps to reduce their risk,” he said.
He added however, that the FEMA welcomed criticism of its maps, provided a clear scientific argument can be used to challenge them.
"What we're looking for is evidence, a study or survey that would provide more detailed information that can be incorporated," deBerge said.
In other FEMA news, the Los Angeles Time reported today that ex-FEMA employee Lashonda Booker, 35, and her cousin, Peggy Hilton, 36 were charged with "conspiracy to commit mail fraud" in a scheme to embezzle $721,000 meant for victims of Hurricane Katrina victims. The pair pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Gulfport, Mississippi. Sentencing is set for April 29. The pair face up to 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.