April 6, 2010
Following a Congressional directive, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in cooperation with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), today released updated draft flood maps for Broome County. Stream studies of the Susquehanna watershed and information gathered following the flood of 2006 enabled new projections to help better calculate flood-protection requirements. These changes could lead to 6,500 structures in the county being added to flood hazard areas.
FEMA and DEC are encouraging Broome County residents to review the new, draft flood maps to see if their homes or businesses are impacted by the changes. Public comment, review and critique are encouraged. FEMA and DEC are also encouraging those within the floodplain to begin taking steps to mitigate risk. If a change in flood zone on the new map means that a structure will require flood insurance, it is possible to obtain insurance before the maps become final. By purchasing insurance now -- while the old maps are still in effect and structures are still technically outside the flood plain - individuals will be "grandfathered" at a substantially reduced rate compared to when the new maps become final. The maps are anticipated to be finalized by early in 2011.
Many of the flood studies in Broome County are over 30 years old and recent data collected by FEMA as a result of the June 2006 floods has resulted in map boundary changes to reflect potential flood conditions. A number of levees located in Broome County do not meet recent regulatory requirements, especially the requirement that the top of a levee or flood wall be three feet above water during a 100-year flood event - causing the areas behind these levees to be mapped as within the floodplain.
Nationally, floods are the most common form of natural disaster. Eighty percent of all Presidentially-declared disasters involve flooding. Homes located in a high-risk flood zone have a 26 percent chance of being flooded during the life of a 30-year mortgage, with only a five percent chance of having a fire-yet all homes carry fire insurance.
"Becoming familiar with the flood map -- and which zone your property is located in -- is the first step in mitigating the risk of flooding," said Mary Colvin, Acting Director of the Mitigation Division at FEMA, Region II, which covers New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. "Broome County's experience in the flood of 2006 dramatizes the need for new, updated maps."
In Broome County, the total number of structures proposed to be included in designated flood hazard areas is 11,000. The reasons for the large increase from previous map versions is due to a longer record of flooding data, increased development in the region, and data that has revised the existing levee system's flood capacity. While there is no reason to believe that Broome County's levee systems are not structurally sound, 12 levees no longer meet federal height requirements for minimum flood protection. These systems have insufficient "freeboard," which is the number of feet a levee must be above the level of water that is anticipated to rise in a specific location during a flood (Base Flood Elevation). FEMA requires a three-foot freeboard above the Base Flood Elevation.
Since 12 of the Broome County levees do not meet this height requirement, structures on the other side of the levee must be designated as being within "Special Flood Hazard Area." The city of Binghamton, the villages of Endicott and Johnson City, and the towns of Vestal and Union will be most affected by the new draft flood maps. Approximately 6,500 structures are proposed to be re-mapped into the Special Flood Hazard Area. When the maps become final, properties within a special flood hazard area will require flood insurance if the property has a mortgage through a federally regulated lender or a federally insured or guaranteed mortgage. For those who already have flood insurance, the premium will become more expensive.
Property owners are reminded that standard homeowner's insurance does not cover flooding. It is therefore important to have protection from floods associated with hurricanes, tropical storms, heavy rains, snow melt and ice jams, and other conditions that could impact communities. In 1968, Congress created the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to provide a means for property owners to financially protect themselves from flood damage.
The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) offers flood insurance to homeowners, renters, and business owners if their community participates in the program (all 24 Broome County communities participate in NFIP). Participating communities agree to adopt and enforce floodplain management regulations that meet or exceed FEMA requirements to reduce the risk of flooding. Flood insurance - with rates set by the government - is offered by nearly 90 private insurance companies and independent insurance agents or brokers licensed by New York State. Premium rates are based on age and type of construction.