New flood maps released
Are you in the high-risk flood zone now?
Published: Thursday, May 17, 2012 at 8:06 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 17, 2012 at 8:06 a.m.
Redrawn flood maps, which will tell residents whether or not they still live in a high-risk flood area and have to pay expensive flood insurance, were released in a draft on April 30.
While city staff is still parsing out the implications of the new maps, it is clear they will bring welcome news to some residents, who have long awaited relief from high flood insurance rates, and unwelcome news to others, who may find their businesses or residences listed in the floodplain for the first time.
“It's been a long time coming,” said John Cheney, who lives in the oft-flooded Payran neighborhood and still has vivid memories of loading his brand-new television and a Valentine's Day gift of See's Candy for his wife into his little aluminum boat to rescue them from a 1998 flood.
Cheney and other residents of that neighborhood have been particularly anxious to see the changes, publicly demanding that the maps be released after first hearing they were nearing completion last fall.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency determined decades ago that many Payran residents lived in a high-risk flood zone, and as a result, anyone with a mortgage through a national lender had to pay mandatory federal flood insurance, which can cost $1,000 or more per year.
But the determination was based on flood maps drawn in the 1980s. Since then, in response to a string of devastating floods, Petaluma undertook and has almost finished a massive, $40-million-plus project intended to reduce the risk of flooding in Central Petaluma.
With the project nearing completion, the city asked FEMA to redraw the maps to reflect changes in flood protection, and FEMA has now done so.
As expected, the draft maps show that most of the Payran neighborhood is no longer considered a high-risk flood zone and residents there may not be required to buy flood insurance.
However, a small section of homes along parts of Jess Avenue, Cordelia Drive and Payran Street has apparently remained in the flood zone. Also, pockets of land along the Petaluma River and the creeks that feed into it have been newly classified as being in a high-risk flood area. Some affected areas may include the Plaza North and Petaluma Plaza shopping centers on the east side of town, as well as some Eastside neighborhoods along creeks and small portions of downtown near the Petaluma river.
A variety of changes have led to this reclassification, ranging from FEMA redefining what a flood hazard is to new information about how water flows through Petaluma, to the city's growth, which some say has resulted in more pavement and concrete pushing water downstream.
So now, a number of home and business owners may find themselves in a “high-risk flood zone,” which means the area has a 1 percent chance of flooding in any given year.
However, the maps must go through a formal appeals process, and so changes aren't set in stone and won't officially take place for more than a year.
“These are changes the Council will want to talk about,” said Councilmember Mike Healy. He speculated that new information, like better stream maintenance by the city and the county water agency, might lessen the number of buildings at high risk of flooding.
Public Works Director Dan St. John said that city staff is still reviewing the maps to look for any errors and understand how they will affect residents, information they plan to share with the City Council at its June 4 meeting.
“At this stage, we are not prepared to discuss impacts as we're still in the analysis,” stage, he said.
Mayor David Glass cautioned against individuals dropping their flood insurance completely.
“No one should think that just because they're not in (the floodplain) they shouldn't have flood insurance,” he said.
A few members of the Payran neighborhood who knew about the draft maps seemed excited, but also a little skeptical, about the changes.
“It's great, but I don't think (our neighborhood) is going to stay out of the floodplain,” Cheney said, referring to development planned upstream that he and others, like former City Councilmember David Keller, fear will send additional water down river. He said he'd continue to buy flood insurance, though it will probably be much cheaper if and when his home is listed outside the high-risk flood zone.
In July, FEMA is expected to commence a 90-day appeal period, where anyone may present scientific or technical information that they think might affect the maps.
At that time, the city will hold a series of public workshops to talk to property owners and explain the appeal process, St. John said.
In the meantime, a map showing the projected changes can be viewed at http://www.r9map.org/Pages/ProjectDetailsPage.aspx?choLoco=49&choProj=372 under the “maps” section. Click on Sonoma Petaluma SFHA Change Map.
(Contact Jamie Hansen at Jamie.hansen@argus courier.com)
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