Wednesday, March 30, 2011

County weighs in on Hailey floodplain

Engineer: FEMA’s maps are inaccurate


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Controversy over recent amendments to Hailey's floodplain map, which required 150 residents to get new flood insurance, is just part of a nationwide issue with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, county officials claim.

"FEMA's getting hammered all over the country," County Engineer Jim Koonce said during a meeting with the Blaine County Commission on Monday. "[But] this is the worst I've ever seen."

The problem, according to Koonce and County Zoning Specialist Nancy Cooley, is that the maps being used by the agency are not accurate enough to allow it to make accurate assessments of flood risk.

Koonce compared a map that he had printed off of Google Earth with one used by FEMA to map the floodplain, noting that Google Earth was far more accurate and showed land features and houses that the FEMA map didn't.

Koonce said that as a result, mapping the floodplain accurately in Woodside would have been "impossible."

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"The mapping contractor was very, very sloppy," he said. "It's almost criminal."

Commissioner Larry Schoen said he heard about the issue during a National Association of Counties conference earlier this month. While the problem is widespread, he said, there is no quick or easy solution.

"Individuals are having to deal with these problems on an individual basis, and there is no solution in the short term," he said.

Cooley said there are options for invalidating or not accepting the revised maps, but neither method is satisfactory. She said local governments are "almost obligated" to adopt the floodplain maps to participate in FEMA's national flood insurance program.

The floodplain map change stems from a FEMA flood insurance study conducted last year for Blaine County. The study updated a map of the floodplain in the Woodside subdivision, through which floodwater flows from Quigley Creek.

Though a floodplain map created in 1981 by FEMA designated areas on and beside Woodside Boulevard as the flow channel for floodwaters from the creek, the last time the area flooded was in 1963.

The commissioners did not vote on whether to support the city of Hailey in rejecting the map or attempting to petition FEMA to reinstate the old map. Schoen said he would be uncomfortable with urging the city to declare a federal map invalid, but Commissioner Tom Bowman said he would support other options.

"We'd be happy to help [Hailey] in any way we can," he said.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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