February 04, 2011

Schumer, Gillibrand Call On Fema To Prohibit All-Or-Nothing Flood Modeling – Proposal Could Cost Southern Tier Taxpayers Millions

6,500 New Buildings Would Be In Flood Zone, Costing Property Owners More For Flood Insurance

Washington, DC – U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand today called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to prohibit all-or-nothing modeling to determine new Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs). The current FEMA approach, which does not take into consideration existing levee or flood control structures, could cost Southern Tier taxpayers millions. With new modeling, 6,500 additional buildings would be considered in a food zone, costing property owners more for flood insurance.

“FEMA’s one-size-fits-all approach to flood mapping places an expensive and unnecessary burden on families and small businesses across New York State,” said Senator Schumer. “Many of our communities have taken proactive steps to prevent flooding, and levees that help ward off flooding should be accounted for when assessing the need for flood insurance. FEMA should put its nose to the ground and come up with maps that reflect our communities diligent efforts to protect themselves from flooding. A more detail-oriented approach to mapping will put money back into businesses and homeowners’ pockets and ensure that future development is not stymied.”

“Broome County residents should not be asked to pay for flood insurance they don’t need,” Senator Gillibrand said. “We must make sure that FEMA is using the best available science and data when making these determinations. It is critical that the flood mapping is done accurately, so local residents are not burdened with unnecessary insurance bills.”

As a result of recent FEMA mapping, structures in Tioga county and more than 6,500 structures in Broome County have been added to the Special Flood Hazard Area, forcing residents to pay for expensive flood insurance. However, FEMA’s current analysis disregards existing flood control structures which continue to provide a protection benefit despite the fact that FEMA has not fully certified them to their current standards.  Having the levees independently reaccredited could cost as much as $300,000 per mile of levee, a cost that local governments cannot afford during these tough economic times. 

However, FEMA has the option of conducting a more sophisticated analysis which would count the protection offered by the existing levees, even though they have not been fully certified.  Conducting this moderately more expensive analysis would ease the burden on local communities by allowing FEMA to more accurately assess the protection provided by existing structures, developing more accurate flood maps in the process. 

While it is important that the National Flood Insurance Program to accurately reflect flood risk, insufficiently accurate or insufficiently precise maps can have a negative impact on communities. In their processes of making flood hazard determinations, FEMA knowingly ignores certain flood control structures in the modeling primarily for the sake of simplicity. However, FEMA has the tools at its disposal to develop more precise data. Current FEMA modeling techniques more precisely reflect the level of flood protection of such structures.  Senators Gillibrand and Schumer urged FEMA to use the methods readily available to them rather than settle for an all-or-nothing approach that shifts the financial burden from the federal government to local taxpayers.

In a bipartisan letter to FEMA Administrator Fugate, Senators Schumer and Gillibrand wrote, “We support FEMA’s efforts to maximize taxpayer dollars by choosing simpler, more cost effective modeling techniques when appropriate.  However, in cases where FEMA treats a flood control structure as if it has been completely wiped off the map, we may be unnecessarily devaluing property and hurting the economies of cities, towns, counties and businesses.”