District staff and contractors discuss floodplain concerns with residents.
Dozens of Hernando County residents who live in the Bystre Lake watershed recently attended an open house to learn more about potential flood risk changes to their properties. The residents had previously received letters from the District notifying them of the potential changes and invited them to the open house.
This open house is just one in a series of public workshops being held in Hernando and Pasco counties to help the District gather historical data and information from residents. This information will be incorporated into revisions to the preliminary floodplain maps, which will be provided to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for use in updating their Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs). Most of the current FIRMs are 10 to 30 years old and are outdated because of natural and physical changes caused by land use, development and erosion.
Each open house focuses on one or more watersheds, depending on size, and allows District staff and their consultants the ability to provide residents one-on-one attention.
During the Bystre Lake watershed open house, three Countryside Estates neighbors came to have their questions answered. Their whole neighborhood is now listed in a floodplain.
Abbie Tabor, a 20-year resident, says she has never had a problem with flooding and was always more concerned that the nearby trees could damage her home during high winds.
“A lot of our neighbors rushed out to buy flood insurance when they learned of the change,” said Tabor. “But most of us don’t have mortgages, so we wanted to get more information before we made a decision.”
Robert Johnson, a URS Corporation project manager, explained the preliminary models and floodplain information before collecting the neighbors’ comments. Their input will spark further research and each will be notified about results of their input.
“Based on comments I have received, most people appreciate the opportunity to have someone listen to their concerns and explain how the preliminary floodplain maps are developed,” said Cecilia McKiernan, a senior scientist consulting with the District.
Mary Dowdell also lives in the Bystre Lake watershed. She learned that part of her property will be in a floodplain when the area receives 12½ inches of rain within 24 hours. While her home is not in the floodplain, Dowdell purchased flood insurance after the 2004 hurricane season.
“Our property had flooding that year, but it didn’t reach the house,” said Dowdell, who intends to keep her flood insurance.
On average, most Hernando County residents who received a letter from the District have a new preliminary floodplain identified on their property.
During each open house, peer reviewers are on hand to provide an independent engineering review of the process in order to ensure that reasonable results are being consistently provided to the public.
“The review procedures implemented by the District will provide a floodplain map that has undergone technical and public input to yield reasonable results,” said Gene Altman, a District senior professional engineer managing the preliminary floodplain revision efforts in Hernando County.
The public has 45 days after the open house to submit comments to the District. After that, the District will address the resident and peer review comments before the floodplain information is finalized and presented to the District’s Governing Board for approval to develop the preliminary FIRMs to submit to FEMA.
Once the FIRMs are submitted to FEMA, the adoption process includes a technical review by FEMA, review by the county involved, a 90-day appeals period and issuance of a letter of final determination that informs the county and the public of the date when the FIRMs will be considered effective.
Hernando and Pasco counties anticipate adopting new FIRMs starting in 2010, once the FEMA process is complete. The FEMA process should take nine to 12 months; but based on appeals, it can take several years.
The floodplain information will be used by the county for land-use and zoning decisions to help manage development in and around floodplains and wetlands, reduce flood risks, preserve land and water resources, and emergency planning. It will also provide valuable information to the public for decisions about purchasing and protecting property.
Together, Hernando and Pasco counties have 32 watersheds. The District has held open houses to address half of these watersheds. The remaining watersheds will be addressed at future workshops not yet scheduled.
For more information, or to find out which watershed you live in, please visit WaterMatters.org/floodrisk/. You can also call the District at (352) 796-7211, ext. 4297.