2012-04-19 / Local News

FEMA says engineering analysis needed to change county flood maps

By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff

An official of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said last week the agency is aware of Leelanau County’s concerns about errors in preliminary flood hazard maps, but it will require an engineering analysis from the county to change the maps.

Local officials who have reviewed FEMA’s response this week say they are not impressed.

In a report published in last week’s Enterprise, several Leelanau County officials and residents expressed concerns about FEMA’s flood mapping efforts and frustration over the agency’s response to errors pointed out by county officials. FEMA responded days after last week’s deadline for publication.

According to Laurie S. Kuypers, a floodplain management specialist with FEMA’s Region 5 Mitigation Division in Chicago, FEMA did receive a submission from Leelanau County during an appeal period set up last year for local officials to raise concerns about the preliminary maps.

“However,” Kuypers wrote in response to the Enterprise query, “this information did not include an engineering analysis that would be necessary and is required by federal regulation in order to reflect a new floodplain delineation on the Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM).” FEMA has been in contact with local officials at the county and will continue to provide guidance through the process, she wrote.

“We will accept the hydrologic and hydraulic data for review should the county submit it,” Kuypers added.

A Lake Leelanau waterfront property owner and a member of the county’s Board of Public Works, John Popa expressed continuing frustration with FEMA after reading Kuypers' response. Popa said he was unaware that FEMA had been in touch with any local officials since last year.

“She asks for an ‘engineering analysis’ ... I thought submittal of a flood control structure for a 200-year flood (per governmental request) would have been sufficient,” Popa said. “It was engineered for that purpose.

Several years ago, Leelanau County, through its Board of Public Works, built a $1 million dam on the Leland River that controls water levels in Lake Leelanau and is designed to prevent “200-year” floods, according to FEMA’s standards. However, FEMA’s preliminary maps show portions of the county around Lake Leelanau to be within a “100-year” floodplain.

In addition, FEMA’s maps do not address the existence of another major watershed in Leelanau County, Glen Lake, in which water levels are also controlled by a dam.

“This seems to be an example of our federal government that is embedded with red tape,” Popa said. “The only thing a citizen can do is wait till everything is published, then obtain a copy of the results to see where this phantom high water line actually is.”

FEMA’s Kuypers wrote that new Flood Insurance Rate Maps will not be effective for regulatory and permitting use until well into 2013. She said that FEMA is still working on the resolution of appeals filed last year.

“Once the appeals are resolved, all of the communities in Leelanau County will receive a letter from FEMA giving them six months to adopt the new FIRMs with the Flood Insurance Study into their local floodplain ordinances,” Kuypers wrote.

The National Flood Insurance program is a voluntary program between FEMA and local governments through which FEMA makes subsidized flood insurance available to residents in participating communities in exchange for local floodplain management responsibilities and floodplain ordinance adoption, Kuypers wrote.

“I would like to point out that FEMA offers the Letter of Map Change process for homeowners who would like to prove that their homes should not be mapped within a high-risk flood area,” Kuypers added. “FEMA is not funded to study every house or lot in the floodplain, and this is one way to amend the maps to reflect your home’s exact data.”

The process is called the “Letter of Map Amendment” process. According to Kuypers, anyone interested may obtain more information online at www.floodmaps.fema.gov.

“I usually do not give up easily,” Popa remarked, “but I am considering it.”

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