UPDATED: Woodbury residents affected by flood programMore than 400 Woodbury homeowners own land in federally designated floodplain areas and may have to take action to avoid flood insurance requirements, officials said.
More than 400 Woodbury homeowners own land in federally designated floodplain areas and may have to take action to avoid flood insurance requirements, officials said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency last year finalized a new flood map of Woodbury, the first time the agency collected the data. It identified just over 500 total properties classified as being in floodplain areas. Most are near the city's lakes.
The Woodbury City Council's upcoming approval of the map – and a new flood ordinance – will trigger a requirement that any property with a structure, such as a house or office building, in the floodplain obtain flood insurance. Officials say that includes only a small number – maybe as few as 10 – of the total properties in the designated floodplain zones.
As many as 450 of an estimated 460 residential properties included in the floodplain designation do not have structures in the floodplain. In some of those cases, just a small area or corner of the lot is in the floodplain.
Those residents likely will have to seek an exemption to avoid their home insurer or mortgage lender from trying to require that they obtain flood insurance, said Ceil Strauss, state floodplain manager.
“The bottom line is there are 450 property owners that are going to be facing issues with their mortgage lender at some point,” added Klayton Eckles, Woodbury city engineer.
The city is developing a plan to assist affected homeowners. After city council members approve the new flood ordinance, which will put Woodbury in the FEMA flood program, staff plan to help property owners who want an exemption because they have structures outside of the floodplain.
One route will be for those residents to obtain an aerial photo from the city showing a property and a home's proximity to the floodplain boundary. Just providing the photo may be enough to show some mortgage lenders and home insurers that a home is not in danger of flooding, officials said.
However, that exemption may not be honored for a new owner of the property, so city staff will urge affected property owners to use an alternative approach to getting the floodplain exemption that would stay with the property regardless of a change in ownership.
That alternative may require providing a lender or insurer with a photo of the property as well as a certificate of survey, to show that a structure was built at an elevation safe from flooding, Eckles said.
City Administrator Clint Gridley said since the alternative approach is preferred as a long-term fix, Woodbury may charge a fee to assist homeowners who only want an exemption for current ownership. City officials may provide help obtaining existing records at no cost to homeowners who opt for the alternative approach.
The city wants all affected homeowners to resolve their issue by July or August, so they might offer free assistance for the first six months, likely beginning in February or March.
“That should be a service that the city provides,” Mayor Bill Hargis said.
Property owners affected by the FEMA program will receive a letter from the city explaining the issue. The city plans up to four neighborhood meetings for affected residents, in February and March, and a meeting for commercial property owners whose land falls within the floodplain.
The city council knew of the FEMA flood mapping project, which includes all of Washington County, but many homeowners still will be surprised by the new program, Eckles said. Property owners may not even be aware that their land is included in the FEMA floodplain.
“I would say the vast majority of people have no clue that this is coming,” he said. “It's only 5 percent of the Woodbury population that's directly affected, but that 5 percent could have a big surprise come their way.”
To be clear, Strauss said, FEMA is not requiring that people with land, but no structure, in a floodplain zone obtain flood insurance. However, she added, insurers or mortgage lenders may see that a client’s property was identified as being in the floodplain and attempt to require that they purchase flood insurance.
The flood program could benefit homeowners who are not in a floodplain. While they are not affected by the FEMA program, they will be able to obtain FEMA flood insurance at a reduced rate, if they wish.
Without the discount, flood insurance can be $2,500 annually, Eckles said.
The city has limited time to approve FEMA's floodplain map and adopt a flood ordinance. FEMA gave Washington County cities a Feb. 3 deadline for ordinance approval; that is six months after Woodbury received the completed map.
The federal agency claims that without ordinance approval by the deadline, a city is deemed “suspended” from the FEMA flood program and it would not be possible for property owners to obtain flood insurance until the city complied with its FEMA requirements.
Gridley said Woodbury expects to meet the deadline, but with no time to spare. City council members are expected to vote on the ordinance Jan. 27. The final step for the city is a required newspaper notice after the ordinance is adopted. The earliest that can occur is on Feb. 3.
“We’re meeting it to the day,” he said.
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