Map changes to hit Harrisburg
New flood plain includes homes around Nine Mile Creek
December 12. 2007 6:00AM
HARRISBURG – Some homeowners in Harrisburg will need to purchase flood insurance by April, thanks to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s new flood plain maps.
In response to the map changes, which will effect homes around Nine Mile Creek and its tributaries, Harrisburg will send letters about insurance options to those specific homeowners in January.
“We want to make absolutely sure that those people who are affected will know,” said Tanya Miller, a Harrisburg city engineer.
The letters will be sent to around 50 homes, although Miller said not all the homes will necessarily be affected. To determine which homes could be on the flood plain, FEMA’s new maps were laid over current aerial maps of the city.
Miller and associates at Howard R. Green, with the help of South Dakota Flood plain Manager Michelle Saxman, began work on the letter this fall. The Harrisburg City Council decided on Dec. 3 to wait until after the holiday season to notify homeowners.
“It’s such a busy time of year,” Miller said. “We didn’t want it to get lost in the shuffle.”
Because Harrisburg participates in FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program, homeowners within the 100-year flood plain are required to purchase flood insurance. Homeowners whose property lies within the revised flood plain have until April to purchase insurance at the lower rates given to homes outside such areas. Until the revised maps come into effect, flood insurance rates are calculated at low-risk rates.
According to Shari Jensen, an insurance agent with Boen & Associates in Sioux Falls, flood insurance for a low-risk home runs between $300-400 each year.
Any homeowner with a federally-insured mortgage will be forced to get insurance after April, at which point the only affordable option will likely be the NFIP insurance.
According to the NFIP Web site, the program began in 1968 to help homeowners purchase flood insurance even if they live in a high-risk area. The 100-year standard was adopted based on statistics: properties in the 100-year flood plain have a one in four chance of flooding over the life of a 30-year mortgage. Without the federal program, insurance companies likely would refuse to cover such homes.
That doesn’t mean NFIP rates for flood plain-affected homes are cheap. A calculator on its Web site estimates building and contents flood coverage for a $100,000 home at $1,079 each year. The basic calculation assumes a few things, too: that base rate applies to single-family homes with one floor, no basement and a standard $500 deductible.
Saxman said homeowners should not take the deadline lightly. When April 2 arrives, the options for homeowners decrease significantly.
“To get the discounted rate for not being in a flood plain, you have to get insurance before that date,” Saxman said.
Miller said she hopes the letter will help residents get discounted insurance before the deadline, but there are ways around high rates after the maps take effect. Even if the resident’s property is located in the flood plain, it is possible that the home itself is not at high-risk.
“Basically, you have to make sure the lowest elevation of the house is above the flood plain,” Miller said.
A rural landowner, for example, may have five acres of property with only some of the land on the flood plain. A home or structure could be above the flood elevation even if a portion of the property is at higher risk.
In such cases, the landowner can have a survey completed and use the information to file for a Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA) with FEMA. A LOMA would exempt that homeowner.
In some cases, a homeowner could also use fill dirt to raise the elevation of the property above the flood elevation to receive a reprieve from the higher rates.
Such options are limited for homeowners or developers, though.
“They won’t let you fill in the whole flood plain,” Miller said. “Then you’re just pushing the problem onto someone else.”
Harrisburg wasn’t always part of the NFIP. Harrisburg signed onto the program in 2005 to get more accurate flood plain information as the city’s boundaries rapidly expand. Without such maps, the consequences of major floods could be much more difficult to manage, Miller said. With accurate information on flood-prone areas, she explained, the city can manage growth with an eye on what types of development are appropriate.
“Cities have learned that flood plains need to be dedicated to them – it saves property, it saves lives,” Miller said.
In order to be eligible for the program, Harrisburg was required to adopt an ordinance to that effect. Those city-owned stretches of flood plain land, Miller said, will eventually be used for parks and green spaces along Nine Mile Creek, similar to what Sioux Falls has along the Big Sioux River.
Growth management and disaster preparation using FEMA’s information can only do so much, Saxman said. While the maps identify high-risk areas, the flood plain manager cautions that natural events don’t always conform to them.
“Flooding can still occur on your property and in your community regardless of what the map says,” she said. “It’s still important to examine your property to determine if you need flood insurance. If you’re not in a flood plain, it’s relatively inexpensive.”