Heidi Zemach for SCN
Seward Bear Creek Flood Service Area Board staff will soon be posting 20 blue and white Base Flood Elevation signs in locations around the service area that show the surface water elevation, or the level that water can be expected to occur in a 100-year flood. That’s also the level or height at which there is a one-percent annual chance of floodwater being equaled or exceeded in any given year. Another way of looking at it is it’s the level at which there’s a 26-percent chance of flood water reaching within the life of a 30-year mortgage.
The signs are meant as visual reminders to property owners of where their own property might stand by comparison, should the next major flood occur.
A special flood insurance event takes place Sept 27 and 28 at local Seward Bear Creek Flood Service Area field office at SeaView offering residents the chance to check out the newly designated flood-rate map zones, and talk with an Allstate agent from Soldotna about flood insurance policies, based on their property’s area of risk. The agent will be available to answer questions and write new policies based on where you live.
The timing couldn’t be better.
Not only have heavy rains begun to fall, and stream levels begun to increase as their bed levels rise, it’s also approaching the anniversary of last year’s flood emergency in September 15-30, 2012. NOAA National Weather Service recorded 14.4 inches of precipitation at the Seward Airport between those dates and the heavy rainfall, along with high tides caused area lakes, rivers and streams to overtop their banks. Private property and public infrastructure were significantly damaged after water diversion structures were breached forcing people to evacuate and roads to be closed. A state of emergency was declared for Seward September 19, and for the KPB on Sept 21.
Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA’s new digital flood insurance rate maps for the Seward area (known as D-FIRMS) will take effect September 27th. The maps are based on a snapshot of the area taken by FEMA in 2005 eight years ago, and don’t reflect the new property developed since then, or natural changes in alluvial fan hydrology. But they are the maps that all new flood insurance policy decisions will be based on henceforth, and are more recent than the previous FIRM maps in use, created in 1981.
Floodplain managers hope residents will at least look up the designated zone in which they live or own property, and consider obtaining flood insurance now before the next flood, and before flood premiums increase. The new maps mean lower premiums for many area properties, including those in Afognak, Bear Lake, Camelot, Forest Acres, Gentles, Lowell, Nash Woods, Old Mill, Questa Woods and other subdivisions.
Those with homes in areas listed above will be moved into the X zone with these new maps. These areas were formerly designated D zones with high insurance premiums because they were considered to be “undetermined” as their risk hadn’t been determined by FEMA. Beginning September 27, insurance policies in those areas will be considered moderate to low risk, so premiums will be comparatively inexpensive—although the properties may in fact be located in flood-prone areas.
Those with homes in the X zones also can expect to obtain inexpensive flood insurance as they are in more elevated areas and either sit above the 100-year flood base elevations or 500-year flood base elevations, or are considered to be protected by levees.
Those with homes in any of the A-zones or the V-zones, coastal velocity zones, are recognized by FEMA as flood-prone zones, or Special Flood Hazard Areas. Property owners there are required by their federally-backed mortgage companies to obtain flood insurance. They also need a borough floodplain permit to develop their property. These property owners are likely to have to pay more for flood insurance, depending on the elevation of the structure compared to the base flood elevation.
Although the federal government has subsidized flood insurance policies in the past, the Biggert-Waters Reform Act of 2012 put reforms in place that roll back the federal flood-policy underwriting subsidies, and will require property owners to be charged for flood policies matching their actual level of risk.
Property owners may be able to obtain a $250,000 flood insurance policy for as little as $385 per year; while those in the D-zone, the worst case scenario, with an unknown risk, may be looking at a policy of more like $2,000 per year.
With flood season approaching, and the anniversary of last year’s flood emergency coming up, it can’t hurt to consider your options.
To obtain flood insurance, property owners may need to get an elevation certificate from an engineer, who comes out and measures the property’s actual elevation. But the maps, and the base flood elevation signs posted throughout the area, give an indication of the levels that flood water could rise during those rare flood events, and help narrow down the level of risk residents may expect.
FEMA is the flood insurance underwriter. For more information about the National Flood Insurance Program, visit www.Floodsmart.gov.