New flood maps for Gulf County are likely still a year away, but a review and analysis of new data should be completed in next 30-60 days.

And that updated data already appears to be paying dividends for the county, reducing the overall impacts, said Bo Spring, the local representative on the board of the Northwest Florida Water Management District.

Largely, that was due to the out-moded models being used.

Jarrick Saquibal with the water management district, provided an update on the work during last weekend’s annual meeting of the Coastal Community Association of Gulf County.

He said the using the updated information, focused on actual changes in elevation, the district had reduced to fewer than 1,000 the potential coastal parcels, or lots, which could be impacted by the redrawing of FEMA flood maps.

“I can assure you that this is a high priority, to minimize the effects and people affected,” Spring said.

Flood maps, a property’s presence in a flood zone, can have significant impacts on securing flood insurance as well as a federally-backed mortgage.

Andy Smith with Hannon Insurance said moving from a “X” zone to a “AE” or VE” zone will likely require flood insurance as part of the mortgage package, but noted that “more companies are coming into the market” in recent years, expanding options.

If a home is within a Coastal Barriers Resource Act (CBRA) zone, land elevation is immaterial, flood insurance will be necessary.

“It’s going to be a mess,” said CCA president Pat Hardman of the upcoming changes. “As a contractor, my advice now is to build to the new elevations. It’s going to be at least that.”

The preliminary FEMA flood maps were released two years ago.

Those preliminary maps caused discomfort in the county due to the number of properties in Gulf County which would be moved from an “X” designation to “AE” or “VE.”

That number was at least 1,377, said Saquibal.

The preliminary maps were seen has having a significant impact on insurance and new construction.

Gulf County would be significantly and negatively impacted if the maps had been adopted as released, said county planner Brett Lowry at the time that BOCC appealed the maps.

The Board of County Commissioners appointed a committee to act as liaison with the Northwest Florida Water Management District, which is assisting the county via the updating the maps.

“Our job is representing our counties … not the federal government,” said Brett Cyphers, Executive Director of the NWFWMD.

Cyphers added that the district is held to FEMA standards, but the reality on the ground can be different than reflected in the new maps.

Once the county appealed the maps during the public comment period, the process halted as the NWFWMD decided to “re-evaluate” the accuracy of the maps.

“That put the process on hold,” Saquibal said. “We have not started the appeals and comments” portions of the process,

With grant funding, and partnering with U.S. Geological Survey, the water management district updated the LIDAR data for Gulf County, the St. Andrews watershed and parts of Holmes County.

LIDAR is far more accurate in mapping an area’s topography.

The last LIDAR data was from 2007 and the models FEMA used in crafting the new flood maps dated from the 1980s, Saquibal said.

In that time, for example, the number of transect lines in the area grew from 44 to more than 300.

“Lots of areas have changed,” Saquibal said. “Some things have changed: 75 percent have not.”

The new LIDAR data allowed the district to compare structures listed within the flood zone to understand fully changes in elevation.

That showed, as of current projections, that the number of impacted properties, which once numbered nearly 2,500, is likely fewer than 1,000.

In turn, the hope is that the end result is the restoration of an “X” designation to a number of properties which would have lost it.

Further, that fewer properties would be placed in the more stringent “VE” designation and remain within an “AE” or “X” zone.

Spring emphasized that once the water management district’s work is complete, information will be disseminated to property owners.

“There has to be an outreach for this,” Spring said. “I can assure that is a high priority.”

There is no set timeline, however.

“We will take as long as it takes to make the flood maps as accurate as possible,” Saquibal said. “Some properties are going to go in and out of flood zones.”

“We will coordinate with the (citizens committee) what the changes are and how and who is impacted.”

New maps, he said, are likely a year out.

The updated maps would also be placed back out for public review, though what shape that would take remains unclear given the point in the process at which a hold was placed.

The preliminary flood maps can be found at http://portal.nwfwmdfloodmaps.com/