New data in hand, analysis to come
Sometimes persnickety pays.
That is the hope for county officials as new data arrives to assess the accuracy of preliminary FEMA flood maps which were first released in 2016.
Those preliminary maps caused quite the stir due to the number of properties in Gulf County which would be moved from an “X” designation to “AE” or “VE.”
County planner Brett Lowry warned if the maps were adopted as is, Gulf County would be significantly and negatively impacted.
The Board of County Commissioners, in turn, appointed a committee to act as liaison with the Northwest Florida Water Management District which is assisting the county.
“There were numerous instances throughout the county and South Gulf County and especially the city of Port St. Joe,” Dr. Pat Hardman, who chairs the committee, said of the preliminary maps and lands losing the “X” designation.
That move impacts the bottom line for home and property owners.
“It would require flood insurance be carried on any home that had a mortgage,” Hardman said. “That would have a horrendous financial impact on many property owners.
“The flood maps impact insurance and construction.”
The county, however, appealed the preliminary maps during the public comment period and as a result the NWFWMD decided to go back and “re-evaluate” the accuracy of the maps.
“We wanted to have the best data,” said John Crowe, a Hydrologist IV with the NWFWMD.
The district obtained a grant and, partnering with U.S. Geological Survey, re-flew over all of Gulf County, the St. Andrews watershed and parts of Holmes County to update LiDAR data, essentially laser mapping of the area’s topography.
Crowe noted the available LiDAR data was from 2007.
As a result, the public comment period on the preliminary maps was suspended temporarily.
Crowe said the new LiDAR information was submitted at the end of last week and the NWFWMD has asked the contractor to analyze the data for changes in topography since 2007.
That process, Crowe said, will likely be completed in August.
The hope for county officials is that the new data will mean the restoration of the “X” designation to a number of properties which would have lost it.
In addition, the hope would be that other properties originally placed in the more stringent “VE” designation would be returned to “AE” or “X.”
In any case, once the comparisons are completed and submitted, district officials would make a decision about a course of action if revision to the floodplain maps are required, Crowe indicated.
There is no set timeline for when that action would be considered or occur.
A decision on remapping is still 3-6 months away; if revisions are made it could be another 14-18 months before the maps become final.
The updated maps would also be placed back out for public review.
“The maps will be revised and the flood elevation has been changed quite a bit so there are going to be losses of the ‘X’ designation even with (revisions),” Hardman said.
But the decision to re-evaluate the maps appears likely to pay off for many home and property owners.
“We want to make sure our communities are (heard),” Crowe said.
The preliminary flood maps can be found at http://portal.nwfwmdfloodmaps.com/