The needler in the haystack.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Mayor Mapp promises progress on flood maps program

Approximate area of flood zones shown in blue
in map that used to be distributed by DPW
with leaf pickup schedules. (Click to enlarge or print.)

Flood control project by the Army Corps of Engineers after the 1973
flood helps channel water from the Cedar Brook onto
flood plains at Cedar Brook Park, as with the soccer fields
above near Stelle Avenue, shown after a 2011 flood.

Nearly a hundred property owners turned out Tuesday evening for a report on Plainfield's flood maps hosted by Mayor Adrian O. Mapp at the Plainfield Public Library.

Representatives from consultant Hatch Mott McDonald, with backup from the city's engineer, discussed the firm's progress on studying issues with Plainfield's flood maps.

Two important revelations were made, which were news to me.

First, the reason that flood insurance premiums have gone up dramatically is that Congress has cut subsidies to the program. Once heavily subsidized, the flood insurance program has move upwards in recent years to a risk-based fee structure.

This has impacted long-term owners, but new purchasers of homes where the insurance is mandated are paying even steeper rates, it was learned.

Flood insurance is required by lenders if a mortgage is to be given on a property listed as being in a flood zone. Homes without mortgages, or those whose mortgages are paid off, are exempted from the insurance requirement -- however, they are on their own in case of actual flooding.

The second important revelation was that there are actually three different flood maps involved -- FEMA, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The FEMA maps are the standard by which insurer's decisions are made, and they were last updated on a countywide basis in 2006.

There is a persistent rumor that Plainfield "has not updated its flood maps", as reported by some property owners. I began to wonder if this is a ploy by the insurers to deflect criticism, as the HMM consultants insisted that the only basis used for insurance purposes was the FEMA maps, and that they were updated countywide in 2006.

Encouraging news was that the Army Corps of Engineers mapping project for the Green Brook catchment area is using modern, state-of-the-art technology that exceeds the standards of both FEMA and the DEP.

This project, when completed in the summer of 2016, will provide a basis for Plainfield to pressure FEMA on the 100-year flood boundaries on which insurance premiums are based.

HMM said their work so far has indicated at least three areas currently in the flood zone which should be questioned. The upcoming Corps of Engineers study should help property owners in those areas.

Residents forcefullyexpressed their frustration at being stymied in their efforts to have flood insurance rates reduced. There were also suspicions of insurance rate inueqities as various residents reported different premium amounts.

It was suggested, though, that the disparity may be based on the differences between the properties. For instance, a home with a finished bsement, say with a family room in it, would pay a different premium from a home built to sit higher, like a bi-level.

The size, age and construction of the property would also influence the premium, the HMM presenter said. Mayor Mapp reinforced the idea by comparing the insurance one would pay on a BMW versus a VW,

Mayor Mapp promised the residents there would be another meeting as the study progresses and that the city would post the consultant's PowerPoint presentation to the city website and provide updates on study's progress.

There was a suggestion in his remarks that he would lobby our Congressional representative Bonnie Watson Coleman to lobby on Plainfield's behalf with FEMA.

All that is good news for Plainfield property owners located in flood zones.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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