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County revisits 5,890 on flood map

Reclassification of the structures as low-risk could mean lower flood insurance payments for property owners.

Published January 18, 2006

TAMPA - County administrators are taking it back.

When they said in October that 24,000 homes and businesses must be reclassified as high flood risks on new flood-hazard maps, they really meant fewer than that.

At least 5,890 buildings that moved from low-risk to high three months ago have been reconsidered, and are once again regarded as low-risk, according to a staff report going before Hillsborough County Commissioners for discussion today.

The main difference, according to the report, is that while the land cited may be flood-prone, further evaluation shows that the structures on that land are at high enough elevations that they are low-risk.

"Do you know how much money that saves people?" said Jim Norman, commission chairman who originally requested that county staffers re-examine their analysis of those properties falling in flood-prone areas.

Mortgage-paying owners of homes in high-risk areas are usually required to purchase flood insurance. Premiums for property owners moving from low-risk to high-risk could double or even triple, while the owner of the typical Hillsborough home in a low- to moderate-risk area pays about $300 to $400 "preferred" rate for flood insurance.

However, the National Flood Insurance Program, administered through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, does allow property owners bumped into a high-risk zone to apply to keep their "preferred" rate.

The latest revision to the flood maps were required by the federal government as part of a national effort by FEMA to bring flood zone maps up-to-date in as many as 20,000 communities nationwide.

The Hillsborough map revisions began in 2001 and were first unveiled in October. A federal investigation released after Hurricane Katrina blew ashore found that 70 percent of the flood-zone maps nationally were more than 10 years old.

In Hillsborough, portions of the maps haven't been updated in 25 years.

Over time, erosion and development change topography and affect flood zones. Additionally, county officials say, new maps are reflective of advances in digital mapping that enable more precise charting of flood-prone areas.

Following the sticker shock that came with the October debut of the maps, Norman argued that the analysis be more detailed in evaluating land contours and cases where land falls in the flood-plain but any buildings on it don't.

He said the initial review was overly broad in capturing all property touched by the flood-plain. As a result, property owners who have the flood-prone label dropped from their land will not be required to purchase flood insurance if they still are paying off loans on it.

"I wanted to try to not scare homeowners," Norman said. "This could be devastating to people who are struggling."

According to the new staff report, administrators used new digital evaluation data and detailed photographs to produce "a greater level of review" this time around.

Norman said old-fashioned, on-the-ground review also contributed to the updated findings.

Bruce McClendon, director of the Planning and Growth Management department overseeing the map changes could not be reached late Tuesday to discuss the changes.

Within the next few months, affected property owners will receive notification of any change in their flood plain status. There will also be opportunity for public appeal and comment before the maps become official.

[Last modified January 18, 2006, 01:09:07]

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