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Changes come with flood map update

Includes small part of Forsyth, engineer says

POSTED: April 13, 2013 12:18 a.m.
 

It’s been about five years since the Federal Emergency Management Agency undertook a nationwide initiative to update flood maps.

Technology has since changed, prompting an update using better topography information. Forsyth County’s updated map was released last month, along with other counties including Cobb and Gwinnett.

Yongqing Yu, a civil engineer with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said he recently held a meeting with county officials to brief them on some of the changes, which impact only properties located in the Chattahoochee River Basin.  

“We are using the non-regulatory database of products to find out which areas are more at risk in terms of population, the depths of flood when a flood occurs and which areas have more potential financial damage,” Yu said. “The non-regulatory database uses a different measure ... you know more than if you are just in or out. You know more information about the flood.”

Yu said the new information can show, in the event of heavy rain, how much flooding to the inch a home would incur.

FEMA public affairs mitigation specialist Mary Olsen said the ultimate goal of these maps is to protect property owners and communities by showing the extent of flood risk in their areas.

Olsen said homeowners with a government-backed mortgage that are living in a high-risk flood zone are legally required to purchase flood insurance for their property.

The responsibility is on lenders to notify borrowers that their homes were recently added to the flood zone map, Olsen said. And if the homeowner doesn’t comply within a certain amount of time, the lender can automatically purchase a flood insurance plan and include that cost in the mortgage.

However, while new homes have been added to the flood zone, others have been removed, Olsen said. In those cases, lenders aren’t required to notify homeowners whether they’re no longer obligated to pay for insurance.

“I would encourage people to visit the [DNR] Web site and actually type in their address to look up their flood risk,” Olsen said. “But we encourage people to keep their flood insurance even if they’ve been moved to a lower-risk flood zone.

“A lot of these communities experienced flooding in 2009. That’s a reminder to all of us how devastating this could be.”

Insurance rates fluctuate based on the risk of flood, but the National Flood Insurance Program, administered by FEMA, lists the average flood insurance policy at about $600 annually.

Since standard home insurance policies do not include insurance against flood damage, Olsen said flood insurance is highly recommended, even for residents outside the flood zone.

“Everyone lives in a flood zone,” Olsen said. “Whether it’s a low, moderate or high-risk flood zone, the risk is still there, which is why everyone should take steps to financially protect themselves from a disaster which affects far too many communities each year.”

It has been a month since the new map was released and mortgage lenders have started informing those property owners who will be required to purchase flood insurance.

“I’m starting to get calls from folks whose mortgage companies have sent them letters,” said Renee Hoge, Forsyth County engineer. “We kind of have it down to a science now, if you will, as far as providing information to people.”

Hoge said it’s just a small portion of the county that’s being affected by the updated maps. About 13 percent of land in the county is considered to be in the flood zone, Hoge said.

In addition to more accurate information, the new maps are divided by water basin instead of by county.

“The entire county is not on the Chattahoochee River,” Hoge said. “So the western ... part of the county flows to the Etowah River or Etowah Creek, and there was no restudy there.”

Yu said the new map system makes more sense.

“It’s a more systematic basin-by-basin way and we have a better understanding of the whole basin instead of just political boundaries or jurisdictions,” he said. “The water runs through the basin instead of the county; it doesn’t stop at the county line.”

 

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