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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Updated Flood Maps

Updated flood maps may cost homeowners

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is updating Nassau County's flood map, and some homeowners may find their houses in the new flood zone - which would require many affected homeowners to purchase flood insurance, according to county Building Official Robert McKinney.

McKinney said FEMA's proposed flood maps are much more accurate than the maps currently used by the county - maps that are more than 20 years old.

"It's been quite a number of years since the last flood map. Our last one was 1988 and here we are at 2010, so we're probably overdue," he said. "We also use a different scale to measure sea levels than we did in 1988. Those numbers are different by about 1.18 feet. Granted, their house did not go up or down - and neither did the ocean - but the reference point has changed, and that can be very confusing.

"Some areas that weren't in flood zones before may be now by a little bit, and some areas that were in flood zones may not be by a little bit, because we have much more accurate mapping now," he added. "... If (a homeowner's) property is mortgaged through a federally insured lender - which is probably 95 percent of mortgages - they would be required to have flood insurance."

McKinney added that some people who find themselves in a flood zone when the new map is adopted in September might be able to reduce their flood insurance rates by purchasing insurance before they're required to do so.

"If they're not in a flood hazard, they get a preferential rate right now," he said. "People who do not need it now but may later, and buy it now can keep it at that rate, rather than a higher rate when they're required to."

Planning and Zoning Board member John Stack, an agent for Brightway Insurance in Fernandina Beach, said many other factors, such as a property's elevation, also come into play when determining insurance premiums.

"Unless we let people know that it's coming, they're not going to be in a position to meet these conditions. ... That's why we need to start getting the word out," Stack said. "Some of these people, if they can be grandfathered in under the old map, can keep their rates significantly lower."

Stack added that FEMA would institute a 90-day appeals process before adopting the proposed maps - but the agency hasn't yet set a date for that appeal to begin.

Both Stack and McKinney stressed the importance of public awareness about the changes.

"Most people are very complacent with their flood insurance issues," Stack said. "... There's so much information that people need to become aware of, particularly if things are going to be changing."

"We will be having a public awareness campaign," McKinney said. "We do have a copy of the proposed map here in the (Building Department) office, and anyone can come by and put their finger on their property, and we'll help them determine what their flood zone is - or may be changed to."

The office is located in the James S. Page Governmental Complex, 96161 Nassau Place, Yulee.

Originally published on April 23, 2010 in the Fernandina Beach Newsleader


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