2013-04-19 / Front Page

Great News? Maybe

Flood Maps To Reflect “Reduced Risk”
By Kevin Boyle

The Advisory Flood Maps issued in January which blanketed all of Rockaway and Broad Channel in flood zones marked A and V – the two costliest zones – are being changed and many areas will reflect “reduced risk.”

What does that mean? Much more affordable flood insurance premiums and in some cases the removal of the requirement for flood insurance altogether.

In a letter to Congress, FEMA said the following:

Following the release of the advisory maps (in January), FEMA, community officials and technical experts continued technical review of the maps.

That review has identified a reduced risk in certain areas. As new data is incorporated, FEMA will release the data to affected communities and Public Assistance applicants as quickly as possible. Homeowners should be aware of changes which may result in reduction of elevation and mitigation requirements. (Bold ours).

Key differences will include reduction in some areas of the V (velocity) zones – for example, Broad Channel is now an A zone. (Other areas will now be in a Shaded X zone) These properties are in moderate-to-low risk areas. The risk is reduced in these areas but not removed. Here are the current revisions:

(We apologize for what may be confusing language but we wanted readers to have a word for word transcription of what FEMA sent to Congress. The different zone designations and technical language might best be discussed with an insurance agent).

From FEMA:

Queens:

Arverne: Moderate V to A zone changes. High risk areas moving to Shaded X. Minor elevation changes.

Breezy Point: Significant V to A zone changes; two to three feet of elevation discrepancies.

Broad Channel: Significant V to A zone changes. Significant restructuring of flood zones. Significant difference in elevation requirements.

Rockaway Park: High risk areas moving to Shaded X. Minor elevation changes.

Roxbury: High risk areas moving to Shaded X. Minor elevation changes.

Howard Beach: Minor changes of high risk areas in to the Shaded X zones.

Edgemere: Significant V to A zone changes. V12 to A10 (included in the Arverne map that FEMA created but should be called out separately)

Belle Harbor: Significant V to A zone changes. V12 to A10, A12 to A10, A11 to Shaded X

Neponsit: A12 to A10, A11 to Shaded X

End

These new maps – if issued and approved – will be a huge boon to homeowners, stores and businesses. The new maps should remove a good portion of trepidation and uncertainty hanging over the real estate market, although some confusion is sure to linger.

FEMA has created something called “Shaded X” zone, a confusing and exasperating designation to us.

There is a zone already called “X” and if “Shaded X” is different than it would seem common sense would dictate a new letter (there are others letters in the alphabet). As we went to press, FEMA said “X was for insurance rates” and Shaded X was for “flood plain management.”

This distinction aside, this is what FEMA says about Shaded X on its own Floodsmart.gov website: Flood insurance isn’t federally required in moderate-to-low areas, but it is recommended.

Denise Everhart from FEMA said: “The insurance rates are the same for zone X and shaded zone X. Both zone X and shaded zone X are eligible for PRPs (preferred risk policies).”

The fact that flood insurance isn’t “federally required” should mean that buyers and sellers won’t have the potentially huge stumbling block of flood insurance costs as they attempt to close on properties.

If the changes hold, some residents currently in “A Zones” might be among the most fortunate. The new maps will actually move many of them from A to X, which will allow these homeowners to pay much less expensive premiums. So, for example, if homeowners in Belle Harbor have been in an A Zone for many years and paying a high premium, they will find themselves in an X zone and be in line for cheaper, preferred rates and possibly have the option of dropping flood insurance completely.

Areas of Broad Channel and Breezy point are being moved in a favorable direction (V to A) but the high costs of regular A zone will still loom ahead. However, both places may have other good news. Broad Channel was described as an area that will have ”significant difference in elevation requirements.” (i.e. Homeowners won’t have to elevate their houses as high as first advised.) The lower elevation requirements could have two effects. First, the actual elevation of houses might become more manageable and two, the lower requirement will mean lower insurance premiums (which climb for every foot a house is below the Base Flood Elevation). If Breezy Point homeowners are considering elevating, the new maps indicate that heights will be 2 to 3 feet lower than first announced.

Questions remain. Will new homes to be built on empty lots and slotted to be in the X zone have to elevate at all? Will more changes come before the maps are released (now set for mid-May)?

In their “Congressional Advisory” letter, FEMA said that the advisory maps were released in January but “technical experts and community officials continued their technical review of the maps.”

FEMA officials said the City had its own experts and brought technical information that helped reshape the maps.

We don’t expect an admission that political pressure was part of the equation but it’s worth noting that FEMA officials told us directly that the maps were unlikely to change much because experts from various government agencies were part of the flood remapping and that they had been working on the new maps for years. We were told science or contrary technical evidence would have to be presented in order for the advisory maps to be altered.

The changes that are coming in May are significant and that means mountains of contrary technical evidence must have been produced since January and/or that other factors (political) played a role.

Wave readers and people from other communities like Howard Beach who became aware of the implications of the advisory maps were vocal and active in contacting Senators Schumer and Gillibrand and Congressman Meeks. There is no evidence that the calls made a difference but suddenly, positive changes are in the works.

Before the final maps are adopted in 18-24 months, FEMA said other changes might occur in the maps. Other groups, such as real estate lobbyists, might have their own experts and offer technical challenges that result in further remapping.

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