Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

28K More Properties Deemed High-Risk | New FEMA Maps May Require More to Buy Flood Insurance

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

28K More Properties Deemed High-Risk | New FEMA Maps May Require More to Buy Flood Insurance

Article excerpt

SARASOTA COUNTY

Nearly 28,600 parcels across Sarasota County will be added to the area's high-risk flood zones when changes to federal flood maps take effect this November.

Owners of those parcels that have insurable structures, such as homes or buildings, could be required to buy flood insurance if they don't have it already or face new construction restrictions.

More than half of those additions will be in North Port, with about 5,500 parcels containing structures likely to need to add new flood insurance -- though requirements will differ based on the specifics of any particular property, according to county and city analyses of the new maps.

"Everybody in Sarasota County is in a flood zone -- there's just high risk and low risk," said Molly Williams, Sarasota County's stormwater manager, who helped develop the data and revise the maps. "I recommend strongly everybody get flood insurance."

The changes are part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's effort to update often decades-old flood zone data with modern computer modeling and hydrology information to better identify the highest-risk areas and which properties should be required to obtain flood insurance.

But the final additions to the local maps are a far cry from the first drafts released at the end of 2014, which initially designated another 42,700 county properties as high flood risks.

After months of revisions and more than 800 comments and technical appeals from local governments' engineers, FEMA reduced the number by more than 15,000.

Most of that reduction came after changes to the way FEMA would classify flooding less than 12 inches deep on roads and drainage ditches based on detailed surveys and studies completed by local engineers, said Williams and North Port stormwater manager Elizabeth Wong. Local stormwater experts argued that FEMA initially improperly identified many areas where water may pool along streets and ditches as high-risk flood zones. Street flooding and spillover from drainage ditches rarely affects structures and often is fairly shallow.

"Most areas affected are those ones we've been able to incorporate our detailed studies, mostly around the municipalities," Williams said. "We're all in this together, and we worked very hard together to make sure we had the most accurate data out there to identify what the flood risks are."

Not all of the new designations will result in changes for property owners, though.

Of the parcels to be added to the maps, only a fraction will absolutely be required to obtain flood insurance, Williams and Wong said. Some may only have a small corner of the parcel included in the high-risk zone and not face new requirements while some others might. It all varies based on the insurance agent, specifications at each parcel and the owners' readiness to do some technical review of their property, they said. …

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