FEMA Takes Closer Look at Homer Flood Maps

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, is in the process of creating more specific flood zone maps for populated areas around coastal Alaska. Contractors have been working on maps for the Kenai Peninsula since 2011.

Folks in Homer weren’t too happy with the last round of flood plain map changes. Those came in 2011. The Spit was heavily affected the last time around, and Beluga Lake also saw some changes.

The bigger issue was that FEMA dropped the maps on the city with very little explanation, but STARR, the Strategic Alliance for Risk Reduction, is making the process more open this time.

Joshua Crowley is one of the people in charge of this region. He and his team were in Homer recently talking about the new draft maps. Crowley said FEMA agents weren’t able to make the trip themselves because the recent across-the-board budget cuts have reduced their travel funds.

“It’s a much more accurate and defensible map than the current effective maps are, which are based on data probably 20 or 30 years old,” he said.

fema-logo-webThe new data STARR is using considers actual wind records from the Homer airport. It uses a different set of guidelines meant specifically for areas with rockier coasts and less hurricane activity. And they also collected more specific data about the terrain of the Kenai Peninsula through aerial surveys.

STARR produced the draft maps considering the worst case scenario. It’s like if every horrible storm hit at once. But that’s only what they call “atmospheric” storms. They don’t factor in tsunamis or volcanic activity. Crowley said some areas in Homer have seen the flood plain recede while other spots saw increases.

“If you are near water, it would be worth looking at these maps to see how it has changed in your area, and understanding why it moved and what impact it could have to your property,” he said.

Crowley said these maps will affect your insurance rates if you live in an area prone to flooding. He said having property in a V zone is trouble.

“The V zone is where there’s wave action, where there can be a lot of damage during a coastal flooding event. The A zone can still have damage, but it’s a different kind. It’s static water, standing and inundating structures. The special flood hazard area, which is areas where flood insurance is required by some lenders if you have a federally-backed mortgage, would be in the V and the A zones,” he said.

Areas along the Spit are in a V zone, actually VE, which is at the top of the scale. Beluga Lake is an A zone. Crowley said there are new maps for Cooper Landing, Ninilchik, Anchor Point, Kenai and Nikiski as well. He said this information could also be used by cities that may want to restrict development in areas where flooding is inevitable and potentially dangerous.

But, of course, you can’t prevent everything.

Crowley said he has dealt with instances where someone has a house in a flood zone. At least, that’s according to information and maps from the 70s and that distinction is not even close to accurate anymore. He said those situations are going to keep coming up as better data is collected. Anyone in a situation like that can appeal their zoning with FEMA through the agency’s website.

The latest maps for the Kenai Peninsula are in a draft form. There will be another meeting in February where the maps will be considered “preliminary.” People can appeal the decisions through May with a final map released around late August next year. All along the way people are asked to make comments and stay involved. The effective date for the next round of changes will be around May of 2015.

Ariel Van Cleave is a reporter for KSTK in Wrangell.

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