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Boro discusses flood maps: Thousands of residents now in FEMA-mapped flood zone

Daily News Staff Writer

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly was briefed during a work session on upcoming changes to flood mapping on Revillagigedo Island at Tuesday’s meeting.

During the meeting, Richard Harney, principal planner for the borough, gave a detailed presentation on the history of FEMA’s flood maps and the changes that might be around the corner for homeowners.

Harney began by filling the Assembly in on the borough’s history with FEMA. He explained that the borough has been a “voluntary participant” in the National Flood Insurance Program since 1975.

He noted that, since 1990, the borough has been using the same flood maps, which only encompass part of the Ketchikan community. Harney noted that the maps only stretch from near Tatsuda’s IGA to the Ketchikan International Airport.

So, in 2013, the State of Alaska recognized Ketchikan as a “priority community” to be re-mapped under FEMA’s new Risk Map program, and the Assembly gave four-hands approval to begin that process.

Borough documents describe Risk Map as the following: “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.”

Assembly member Alan Bailey, who was on the Assembly at the time, noted that he felt pressured to give approval, saying that he felt there wasn’t much choice involved in the process.

“I recall that meeting in 2013,” Bailey said. “It did not feel like we had a choice. … I recall that meeting really distinctly.”

But, the major point that Harney tried to drive home in his presentation Tuesday was just how big of an impact this might have on homeowners in the borough.

He explained that, up to now, all the properties along the coast — outside the section of Ketchikan that was mapped in 1990 — were mapped at one base elevation. Now they have been completely mapped by FEMA, and in some cases, homeowners might need to purchase flood insurance.

Many on the Assembly seemed upset at a perceived federal government overreach.

Assembly Member Stephen Bradford expressed his displeasure with the flood mapping and federal insurance program throughout the work session. He called it a “boondoggle federal program,” noting that it seemed as though this was a way for FEMA to pay its bills in the Lower 48.

Harney went on to give specific numbers of how this might affect residents in the borough.

He explained that with the new flood maps, the borough would go from having 48 properties in the mapped flood zone to 1,100.

During his presentation, Harney also provided some estimates of average flood insurance yearly premium costs. He noted that the Ketchikan estimates are based on the 48 properties currently paying premiums in the borough:

    •    National average — $672.

    •    Alaska average — $635.

    •    Ketchikan average — $2,014.

Harney noted that these mapping changes also affect lenders as well.

“When properties are mapped and (Flood Insurance Rate Maps) become effective, lenders are required to have flood insurance in force within 45 days,” Harney explained.

A number of Assembly members expressed alarm at some of the numbers Harney provided, especially the average flood insurance premium estimates. Some asked about what the potential ramifications of withdrawing from the program would be.

Harney explained as of right now, the borough is completely all-in on the maps, but explained that down the road, after community input is received during the appeal period from January to April, the Assembly has the option to completely opt out of the entire FEMA flood-mapping program.

Although, Harney said that the ramifications from withdrawing would be of concern, noting that if the borough chose to opt out, “no resident will be able to purchase a flood insurance policy.”

In addition, he noted that preexisting flood insurance polices would not be renewed, amongst other penalties.

When asked about how borough staff is trying to get the word out to members of the community about the changes, Harney said that they would be “sending out a letter this week to all property owners (affected by the remapping).”

Harney also strongly encouraged everyone who is concerned or has questions about the remapping to attend an open house on Jan. 25 at the Ted Ferry Civic Center. He explained that there would be six tables in the room to help homeowners understand how their property is going to be affected.

Attending the Jan. 25 meeting will be representatives from insurance companies, flood study engineers, property identification and digital mapping experts, individuals from FEMA, in addition to a table with state officials and a table with local officials.

Harney said that the Jan. 25 open house is the best way for people to learn about the Risk Map changes. If all goes to schedule and the community does not decide to opt-out, the maps are slated to go into effect spring of 2019.

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, the Assembly approved two agenda items to be brought to a public hearing at the Jan. 15 Assembly meeting.

The first hearing involves rezoning a plot of land on Carlanna Lake Road to allow for veterinary use. Borough staff noted that they supported the rezone effort.

The second hearing also involves animals. If approved, Ordinance 1848 would increase the fine for animal waste borough-wide from $100 to $200. In addition, the ordinance would allow dogs to run off-leash within the enclosed area of Weiss Fields.

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, the Assembly:

    •    Heard a legislative update from Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan. Ortiz explained Gov. Bill Walker’s proposed FY2019 budget and fielded questions from members of the Assembly. He noted that he wanted as much feedback as he could get going into the 2018 legislative session.

    •    Heard from Terri Robbins, a representative from Alaskans for Integrity. She explained that her group is collecting signatures in order to encourage changes in the state (l) Legislature. One of the changes she noted was withholding per diem for lawmakers if they can’t pass a budget in time.

    •    Reviewed the state marijuana establishment license for Sparkle Farms Alaska.

    •    Consented to a vacation of right-of-way at a portion of Kian Street within the Wacker City subdivision.

    •    Heard a report from Borough Manager Ruben Duran.

The next Assembly meeting will be held on Jan. 15.