Floodplain changes threaten tide of insurance hikes
As the Federal Emergency Management Agency redraws Garfield County’s floodplain boundaries, residents and local businesses may end up paying bigger insurance bills.
The latest revisions to FEMA’s floodplain maps — reviewed Thursday in a forum for local government, residents and businesses — show that several businesses and neighborhoods will be enveloped in the new 100-year floodplain boundary.
However, since the 2011 revision of those maps, several appeals have succeeded in pushing back the boundaries in some locations, such as Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge and Pool, the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers, El Rocko Mobile Home Park, Riverside Cottages north of Cardiff and Mitchell Creek just north of Sixth Street.
In these locations, residents found errors in FEMA’s elevation data.
But in many of these locations and others, the most recent revised maps still show growing floodplain boundaries.
For example, the floodplain running down a horseshoe street off of Center Drive in West Glenwood has expanded to encompass the entire neighborhood.
Ryan Pietramali, FEMA’s risk analysis branch chief, said these updates have come along as mapping technology has advanced — bringing data collected with technology from the 1960s and ’70s into “the digitized world.”
Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge and Pool has already begun protesting. In a Nov. 12 letter to FEMA, the Hot Springs’ attorney disputed whether the newest maps were indeed more comprehensive and accurate.
FEMA’s current floodplain shows Glenwood Hot Springs is outside the 100-year flood boundary. But it was included in the floodplain in the 2011 revision. And while the boundary around the springs has receded after successful appeals, the tourist attraction is still encompassed in the 100-year boundary.
Pool representatives reached Thursday declined comment.
The sudden change came with a change in policy, Pietramali said. Prior floodplain maps had considered Interstate 70 as a flood mitigation structure. But under its new policy, FEMA cannot consider the interstate as such.
Pietramali said FEMA is dealing with the issue of non-levy embankments all over the country since the implementation of that policy.
But the interstate was designed and built for transportation, not to restrain flood waters, said Pietramali.
FEMA, therefore, treats the area as though the interstate is not there at all, extending the floodplain as far as the water would go without the interstate as an obstacle.
So regardless of whether I-70 would block floodwaters from the Colorado River, Glenwood Hot Springs could get stuck with much higher insurance costs.
Pietramali noted that while the floodplain maps are used by lenders to determine where to make flood insurance mandatory and how to set insurance rates, they’re also used for land management decisions.
Following the forums Thursday, FEMA will open a 90-day period during which residents and businesses can submit appeals. That period is slated to begin in February.
Following that process, FEMA prepares the final floodplain maps, a flood insurance study and flood insurance rate maps. Those maps and reports go into effect 10 months after they’re finalized, and local governments are required to have passed ordinances adopting those maps beforehand.
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