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FEMA flood plain map draws protests
County may hire own engineering study
Wednesday, June 23, 2010 • Posted June 23, 2010

At a public workshop Friday morning on flood plan mapping, Llano County officials suggested that FEMA delay implementation of new maps so that Llano County can obtain its own engineering studies of the western portion of the county.

The preliminary flood plain maps presented by FEMA in August 2009 would change the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) line developed in 1991 that has been used by Llano County for permitting construction in the 100 year flood plain. The new BFE as presented by FEMA, if adopted, would significantly affect some existing structures on properties along the Llano River and its tributaries from the Mason County line eastward to the eastern edge of the City of Llano. Homeowners who have built residences based on the current standards could possibly find themselves unable to obtain flood insurance, subject to higher flood insurance premiums, or unable to build additions to their homes.

At the meeting and in a follow-up letter, Llano County Judge Wayne Brascom asked FEMA to delay making a decision on the flood plain mapping for at least 12 to 18 months, since it may take the county at least that long to obtain and fund a comprehensive engineering study of water flows, hydrology and elevations. The county begins its budget planning season next week at its June 28 meeting. Because the cost of the engineering study could be substantial, Brascom would like the time to spread the cost over two budget cycles to lessen the impact on the county’s bottom line. A delay would also give the county time to pursue possible grants to help fund accurate engineering studies.

Llano County Commissioner Jerry Don Moss said he supports funding an engineering study. “FEMA is not going to help Llano County; we need to help ourselves.” Moss said FEMA’s representatives at Friday’s workshop were not receptive to a delay, but they are not the decision makers.

FEMA representatives participated in Friday’s workshop. They gave no reason to speedily adopt a new flood plain map, yet they could not agree to a delay during the workshop.

In an interview this week, Gary Zimmerer, Senior Engineer with FEMA Region 6 based in Denton, said that FEMA will “review the information presented by Llano County, the City of Llano and various citizens” and get back with the county and city after such review. Zimmerer said FEMA is “not requesting the adoption of the map at this time, as the due process is taking place with regard to the appeals and protests.” Once the appeals and protests have been “resolved,” Zimmerer said the process would move forward and decisions would be made “during the review of the information presented.” Zimmerer and Glen Beard, Natural Hazard Program Specialist with FEMA, took part in Friday’s workshop.

City of Llano Mayor Mike Reagor said the workshop went well, and he anticipates the FEMA representatives will relay the concerns and objections expressed at the meeting to the decision makers in the Denton office of FEMA. At their regular meeting on Monday night, the Llano City Council passed a resolution asking FEMA to delay final mapping of the Llano River flood plain for two years to allow the county to obtain a comprehensive engineering study.

Llano County and many individual residents have filed formal protests to the mapping presented by FEMA. About 35 Llano County residents attended Friday’s workshop, including Patty Pfister, who submitted a letter of protest with 584 signatures to FEMA before the June 22 deadline for filing protests.

Pfister also gave the FEMA representatives copies of photographs of structures on the banks of the Llano River that have never been flooded, yet now find themselves located within FEMA’s proposed new flood plain lines. As she submitted this pictorial evidence of actual Llano River flood levels, Pfister conceded that the photos may not be considered “scientific” evidence, saying “they’re only facts.” That observation brought a round of understanding laughter from the audience.

Realtor Mark Virdell told FEMA that local real estate closings were being held up by the proposed new flood plain map and sales are stalled nationwide since FEMA has suspended writing flood insurance policies. FEMA’s representatives confirmed to Virdell that FEMA has ceased writing flood insurance since Congress has not funded the program. Virdell, like many others attending the workshop, was unable to understand FEMA’s apparent urgency to adopt new flood plain maps since the agency is not even writing flood insurance policies.

According to a Government Accounting Office report presented to Congress in April 2010, the National Flood Insurance Program administered by FEMA has been on GAO’s “high-risk list since March 2006” and as of April 2010, the flood program was $18.8 billion in debt to the federal treasury.

FEMA’s representatives acknowledged that the agency drew the new map using less than ideal methodology, relying on digital images, topographical maps, but without a detailed on-site study. “It is inconceivable to me that FEMA would insist on using a map based on less than perfect methodology when Llano County is willing to fund a detailed on-site study,” said Virdell after the meeting.

The new mapping presented to Llano County was initiated by the federal government. “We didn’t ask FEMA for new mapping,” said Judge Brascom. But faced with the FEMA drawn maps, local officials are taking action to mitigate any potential adverse effects on its residents. No one at the workshop was receptive to FEMA’s suggestion that the county adopt the new map, and let each individual property owner take steps later to obtain a revision covering specific properties.

Also in attendance at the workshop at the request of the county were Sandy Edwards, Central Texas Regional Director for Senator John Cornyn, Nick Schroeder, Special Assistant to Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Nancy Watson, Regional Director for Representative Mike Conaway. Since FEMA is under the Executive Branch, the U.S. Congress does not have direct control of the agency, however elected officials often act as liaisons for constituents with federal agencies.

The workshop agenda did not call for any action by the Llano County Commissioners, and no official action was taken. But the message from local residents and officials was clear, informing FEMA that more accurate data needs to be obtained before any changes in the flood plain maps for Llano County are adopted because the preliminary maps proposed by FEMA may have been based on some form of science acceptable to the federal government – but they are not based on Llano County facts.

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