Rough draft of new FEMA flood maps stirs up Orange Co. officials, residents

Rough draft of new FEMA flood maps stirs up Orange Co. officials, residents

It’s been more than 20 years since FEMA released official National Flood Insurance and floodway maps for Orange County, and for the last several years planned revisions have been promised. This past week on March 1, FEMA advanced that agenda by releasing rough drafts of preliminary maps, which are scheduled to be ready for public viewing within the next couple of months.

FEMA Region 6 representative Larry Voice said even when the maps become available, around May according to Voice, the plans would still be in the preliminary stage while a 90-day appeal and comment period is in effect. The preliminary maps, when ready, will be posted to the Web site, he added.

Officials from Orange County and every city within the county were at the March 1 meeting, anxiously awaiting a peek at what the future of flood insurance would hold for their respective communities.

“We haven’t seen these in such a long time,” Orange planning director Jimmie Lewis said. “From what we can tell, it looks about the same as the one we have from the ’80s but we won’t know for sure until we can get these maps next to the old ones to compare.”

Voice said Lewis might be waiting a while to make that comparison since the only copies of these long-awaited maps were those belonging to the FEMA rep – and he would be taking those copies with him when the meeting was over.

Bridge City Mayor Kirk Roccaforte wasn’t as tentatively pleased as his city neighbor from Orange Lewis. According to Roccaforte, the new mapping plans “are the worst possible” they could’ve been.

“There’s almost nothing in the city that isn’t declared a flood risk, according to this draft,” he said. “This is a huge change from the old maps, and it will cost us a lot of money in insurance.

“What I’m looking at is basically a snapshot of the storm surge from (Hurricane) Ike, I bet you. It can’t get much worse than this.”

Voice said Bridge City was most affected by the mapping change, citing changes in the Coastal Flooding zone, which now encroaches a great deal into the small city. Other changes that are expected to affect Bridge City developers and homeowners will be rises in base flood elevations, although prior construction will be exempt.

Vidor resident David Duncan, who was highlighted in The Examiner article “High and dry homeowner in floodway” (March 1-7), echoed Roccaforte when he carefully inspected the flood maps showing his home and neighborhood. He was concerned the home he invested his savings in, located in Vidor’s Wexford Park, was built in a floodway without proper permitting, potentially causing excess flooding in the low-lying neighborhoods near his address. While he had some small hope that his newly acquired $200,000 home wouldn’t be smack in the middle of a floodway where construction was forbidden, all those hopes were dashed when FEMA added a line marking his street as in the line of fire.

“They can’t deny it anymore; it shows it in black and white,” Duncan said of the developer who sold him the home on Ashford Drive. Also in that area is another handful of homes and a city of Vidor water treatment plant. “I can’t imagine no one knew they were developing right in the floodway. Now, they say it’s no big deal. But it was a big deal when I wanted to add a shop to my home,” Duncan added. “If I can’t build there, even though they gave me a permit to build, why should they be able to? This whole subdivision doesn’t belong here, but the only one who’s paying the price for their mess-up is the ones left holding the bills for the properties.”

Voice said he couldn’t be sure how the county could bring the area where Duncan lives into compliance with FEMA’s regulations for National Flood Insurance. Should the county not be able to satisfy FEMA’s compliance demands in relation to Duncan’s Wexford Park home and the area surrounding his home, the entire county could be removed from the program. Participation in the National Flood Insurance Program, Voice said, is strictly voluntary. However, the state of Texas has mandated all counties be members of the program.

Jennifer Johnson can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 231, or by e-mail at jennifer [at] theexaminer [dot] com