FEMA’s proposed floodplain maps for Baltimore City indicate reduced flood risk for some areas of Fell’s Point, but Baltimore’s floodplain manager is wary, and encourages home and business owners to keep their flood insurance anyway.
The city’s new flood hazard map—also called Flood Insurance Rate Maps or FIRMS—was created by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers and the city, and was released about a week ago at the city’s Floodplain and Hazard Open House.
The proposed floodplain map will be online for public view and comparison to the current floodplain map within about a week, said Ken Hranicky, a city planner and the city’s floodplain manager.
A floodplain is a part of the land where water collects, pools, and flows during the course of natural events. Such areas are classified as Special Flood Hazard Areas and are located in 100-year flood zones. The term “100-year” can be misleading. It does not mean a flood could happen there every 100 years. It is the flood elevation that has a one percent chance of being equaled or exceeded each year.
Persons who own property in high risk areas of the floodplain are required by law to buy flood insurance if they have a mortgage with a federally insured lender, and buying flood insurance through FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program is often a good deal, said Hranicky.
NFIP offers flood insurance, which can be purchased through property and casualty insurance agents. Congress created NFIP in 1968. At that time, most homeowners policies did not cover floods, and property owners who experienced floods were often financially devastated and unable to rebuild.
Persons who own property in low-to-moderate risk areas are not required by federal law—but are eligible and encouraged—to buy flood insurance through NFIP anyway. According to FEMA, about 20 percent of all flood insurance claims come from those in low-to-moderate risk areas.
“The last time the city redid its floodplain maps was 1977. Computer power back then was fantastic,” joked Hranicky,
The proposed flood maps for the city show significant changes in some areas, although only about 2,000 properties citywide will be mapped at either a higher or lower risk.
“For Fell’s Point, the floodline in some areas has actually receded,” said Hranicky, speaking at the city’s flood map open house last week. He acknowledges that with the effects of global warming and sea level rise, the receding surprises him.
When contacted with questions regarding the floodplain receding, FEMA referred the Guide to their public relations office, which did not return emails or phone calls in time for deadline.
“Sea level rise and floodplain receding don’t go hand in hand,” he said. “The flooding from Hurricane Isabel in 2003,” Hranicky said, “lined up pretty closely with the current flood map—not the proposed one.”
Because of this, Hranicky is recommending that property owners who were labeled high-risk on the current, circa-1977 map keep their current insurance–regardless of what the proposed map indicates.
“Also, anyone not in the high-risk zone, but who was affected by Hurricane Isabel, should purchase flood insurance. That’s my recommendation,” Hranicky said.
Hranicky noted that proposed maps are based on current conditions at the time they were made and can’t speak to the future.
“We’re dealing with changing weather events, and these kinds of storms are becoming more common and more expensive. Hurricane Sandy was a $70 billion dollar storm.
Seventy billion, and they haven’t stopped counting,” he noted.
The proposed floodplain maps for the city will be available online within the next week at http://bmorecity.wix.com/baltcityfloodplain and in person at the Department of Planning. Online, homeowners can type in their address and view their current floodplain map alongside the proposed one. If residents or business owners feel that they have been inaccurately labeled high-risk, and they have better information to prove otherwise, they may submit technical or scientific data to support their claim, Hranicky said.
“The 90-day public comment period began April 23,” he said.
by Danielle Sweeney