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Boro to hold work session: Will discuss FEMA property elevation remapping

Daily News Staff Writer

Tuesday’s Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly meeting is an important one for a number of homeowners who live along the coast of Revillagigedo Island.

During the meeting, the Assembly will hear an update about the National Flood Insurance Program as well as the potential changes homeowners might encounter following the implementation of new maps with new base-flood elevations.

According to the borough’s principal planner, Richard Harney, this presentation is an important one because it is a way to give the community a heads up about some of the changes coming.

And according to borough documents, these changes are years in the making.

Harney explained that the borough has a long history dealing with FEMA and its flood insurance program. The agenda for the meeting also includes a little history of FEMA and its relationship with the borough.

“The borough is a voluntary participant in the National Flood Insurance Program. The borough joined the NFIP in 1975,” the agenda item reads. “… In November 1989, the City and Borough adopted joint resolutions … adopting all required standards of the NFIP as approved by FEMA.”

Then, in 2014, the state of Alaska identified Ketchikan as a priority community to be remapped by FEMA using the government agency’s Risk MAP program, which is described in borough documents: “Through the Risk MAP effort, FEMA is updating the nation’s coastal Flood Insurance Studies and (Flood Insurance Rate Maps), where appropriate, and publishing new FIRMs in densely populated areas that were not previously mapped.”

Now, four years since the Assembly gave four-hands direction and agreed to the Risk Map program, preliminary maps have been produced. Harney says that people should be aware that the new floodplain map process is almost completed.

“That was about four years ago,” Harney explained. “And the elected officials change, and people don't really remember what was talked about back when it was first agreed to. And so now here we are we're in the final stretches.

“And I say final stretches; it's about probably about a year now left in the process to get these floodplain maps adopted,” Harney added.

Harney said that the main, and potentially costliest, change for homeowners is that the entire coast of Revilla Island — all that is connected by road — is now being mapped as part of the FEMA Risk Map program.

“So, the biggest change of the whole thing, and this is basically what we're doing this presentation for and why we're doing this work session, is that we're now being mapped outside of just the city of Ketchikan,” Harney said. “… So everybody that's along the coast, are going to be within a mapped flood zone, and that means that they're going to have to get flood insurance if they have a federally backed or federally insured mortgage.”

Harney explained that for hundreds of properties along the coast and outside the City of Ketchikan, the borough has historically just assigned them a standardized elevation.

“Anything that was on the coast, was just generally assumed to have a base-flood elevation of 22 feet above the ‘mean lower low water (level),’” Harney explained, adding that the mean lower low water level is a datum used to measure base flood elevations.

He said all that has changed now that the community is participating in the new FEMA remapping.

“(FEMA is) actually going out and determining where the base-flood elevations are along the coast,” Harney said. “So some of them are being reduced. Some of them are going to be less than 22 feet. … But there are some properties where the base-flood elevations are going to go up, and, in some instances, they could go up considerably.

“So that means that these people have built their houses, or potentially bought houses that are below the base-flood elevation. What that translate(s) into in dollars and cents, and for the insurance policy or insurance premiums, is a huge amount per year for flood insurance,” he added.

Harney urged homeowners who are unsure about how the new maps might affect their bottom line to attend a public meeting being held on Jan 25. He said that during the January meeting there will be representatives from FEMA, insurance companies, engineering firms and others, who will be there to answer questions, and go over individual changes with property owners on Revilla Island.

“Property owners are going to be able to have individual conversations that are specific to their property in relation to the floodplain that's being mapped,” Harney said.

He said that letting the general public know about that January meeting was a critical element as to why the Assembly is holding its flood mapping work session at Tuesday’s meeting.

“So, that's what this work session is about, re-educating the Assembly, re-educating the public, trying to get the information out there, because there's a public meeting on the 25th of January up at the Ted Ferry Civic Center,” he explained.

Harney says that after the public meeting, a 90-day timer begins wherein those with concerns regarding the remapping can contact the planning department and formally complain. Harney says that if enough people are dissatisfied with the new mapping effort, “the community can repeal or refute the maps.”

Although, he said that if the community, through the Assembly, decides to renege on FEMA’s Risk Mapping program, there might be other negative consequences for homeowners.

“The Assembly has the ability to opt-out of the program entirely,” Harney explained. “Now, there's a whole list of what the ramifications of opting out of the program are. The biggest one — it's going to hit the homeowners that live along the coast or in a mapped flood area — they're not going to be able to get the subsidized NFIP insurance. So they're going to have to go to the private insurance companies.”

Harney highlighted some of his frustrations with the program, including the fact that there are typically very few instances of coastal flooding on Revilla Island. He noted that since 1990, there have only been three claims filed under NFIP.

“But it's an optional program that we've opted into,” Harney explained. “And now there's ramifications of being part of that program. And one of those ramifications is that we have to regulate it.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, the Assembly is also expected to:

·      Hear reports from the borough manager as well as a representative from the Ketchikan School Board.

·      Consider rezoning a plot of land on Carlanna Lake Road to allow for veterinary use.

·      Review the marijuana establishment license for Sparkle Farms Alaska.

·      Hear a report from the ad hoc attorney selection committee, which is trying to find a new borough attorney.

Tuesday’s meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly chambers, 1900 First Ave. There will be time for public comment at the beginning of the meeting.