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Published: 8/8/2007

New maps expand Lucas County flood plain; changes will be costly for property owners

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Thousands of Lucas County homeowners can thank technology for the bill they are about to receive.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency later this year is expected to release updated flood plain maps for Lucas County that will place thousands of area homes into the 100-year flood plain for the first time.

It s like a couple thousand properties that we think will go in, Lucas County Engineer Keith Earley said yesterday.

[The new maps] were going to be released [by FEMA] in September, but now they put it back until at least December.

Traditionally, there hasn t been a lot of change between flood maps in Lucas County the last two map updates were done in 2000 and in the early 1980s.

But the map update being worked on will be the first to incorporate extremely accurate topographical data collected by the county several years ago using lidar, which is similar to radar but uses laser light in place of radar s radio waves to map surface contours.

Mr. Earley said the new maps are expected to lower the base flood elevation for Lake Erie. The change is likely to mean that large areas of Point Place, Washington Township, and Jerusalem Township that currently are out of the 100-year flood plain now will be included.

Flood insurance is underwritten by the federal government, which also sets the rates for coverage.

By way of example, annual premiums for a policy extending $100,000 of coverage for a building and $30,000 of coverage for its contents cost as much as $1,079. Exact rates are available online at www.floodsmart.gov. Policies are purchased from commercial insurance agencies.

The exact boundaries of the affected areas won t be available until the maps are released to the public, local officials said.

Toledo s District 6 Councilman Joe Birmingham said the effect of the map revisions could hit Point Place, which is in his district, particularly hard.

I just think it s going to be devastating to the peninsula out there, especially with all the work that we ve done out there over the last 20 years, Mr. Birmingham said.

With the challenges we re having right now in terms of keeping people [in Point Place] in affordable homes, another $100 a month may be too much to bear, the councilman said.

I haven t heard a finality on it whether or not it s going to happen. I m hoping that there s an ear we can appeal to.

From what I ve heard, we really don t have much of a recourse except to appeal to our [representatives in Congress] to ask FEMA to reconsider, he said.

When the maps are released, there will be a one-year period before they actually go into effect.

Mr. Earley said local officials will use that period to educate the public about what the changes mean and ways that they can lower the costs of flood insurance.

Mr. Earley said the best strategy for local officials to take may be educating local residents.

We re going to be spending that time encouraging people to buy flood insurance policies before the map goes into effect because, if they do that [while it is not required], they can save a third or a half [of their premium], Mr. Earley said.

Lucas County leaders are working with local municipalities to lower area residents flood insurance premiums by participating in FEMA s Community Rating System.

By changing building codes and land-use plans to avoid potential flooding problems before they occur, municipalities can reduce the flood insurance premiums of their residents by as much as 45 percent.

County commissioners yesterday took a large step in that effort by adopting changes to county building codes intended to avoid potential flooding issues before they happen.

Among the changes adopted was a restoration of a one-foot high freeboard around local waterways that was accidentally eliminated six years ago, said John Walters, the county s chief building official.

The new rules also require that critical buildings, such as police and fire stations, hospitals, and nursing homes, be built well above any potential flooding danger.

We re trying to do a lot of things to get the insurance premiums lowered, Mr. Earley said. If we do certain things, we think we can get a 10 to 15 percent reduction for residents.

For Jerusalem Township residents, dealing with flood plain designations has become part of life along the lakeshore, former township Trustee John Hansen said.

Mr. Hansen said he was skeptical that a new analysis of flood levels would be any more accurate than those in the past.

This lake level is one of my pet peeves, Mr. Hansen said yesterday.

In my opinion, people that did things 100 years ago [when homes were built in Jerusalem Township] knew what they were doing just as much as they do today. My question is, who sets the standards?

County Commissioner Pete Gerken said local officials can try to influence the decisions that are about to be made on local flood levels.

Ultimately, however, the best use of local resources may be to work on qualifying for discounts for all local premium payers.

We re trying to anticipate what FEMA and [the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] are going to do later this year, Mr. Gerken said. If we have some of these regulations in place, we at least can get a discount.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at: lvellequette@theblade.com or 419-724-6095.



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