A group of Newton County leaders, bankers and realtors gathered Wednesday to hear from a panel of federal and state officials on the effects of the 2010 Newton County floodplain map and how county residents can respond to their placement within a special flood hazard area.
Gary Roark, Newton County Emergency Management Director, said the county had been operating on a floodplain map that was drawn in 1985, up until FEMA released an updated county map in 2010.
Roark said with the new flood map, some homeowners found themselves located in a floodplain, though they were not considered to be in one before.
"We found that in some cases the new maps improved the floodplain situations and in other cases it made it worse than it was before," Roark said. "So this in itself has created a problem. Once the new maps came out, all of the mortgage companies that held mortgages on residential properties, they immediately went to these companies that do floodplain determinations."
Roark said if the residences were determined to be in a floodplain, the lender was then required by federal law to require that the homeowner purchase flood insurance.
However, the floodplain maps don't reflect the same details in all areas.
"The area where you have the more populated areas, Neosho, Seneca, they're in what is called a numbered A-zone," Roark said. "But the areas outside of the communities or towns, they're in what they call the unnumbered A-zones, they did not do a numbered study."
Charles Patterson, of Allgeier, Martin and Associates Engineers, said those in unnumbered zones do not have a base flood elevation determined, as there are within cities.
To determine if a property is located within the floodplain, property owners can contact their local city hall, county emergency management director, or look online, at services such as Google Earth, which offers a floodplain outline.
Though Ally Bishop, Regional Manager for Region 7 of the FEMA National Flood Insurance Program, said only FEMA can determine who falls within the floodplain.
She said those who fall within the floodplain would be alerted by their lenders, when asked to purchase flood insurance.
Those buying a home would also find out when attempting to secure a home loan, as the bank would require a flood insurance policy before offering the loan.
Bishop said if a homeowner finds they are in the floodplain, it is important that they go through a license engineer or a county surveyor to receive an elevation certificate.
The elevation certificate will give a closer look at exactly where the property falls within the flood level, and will impact the homeowner's insurance rates.
"The reason that an elevation certificate is going to be so important is because it actually actuarially rates the policy," Bishop said. "So if they're three-feet above the elevation difference their premiums are going to be quite substantially lower than if they were three-feet below the base flood elevation. The base flood elevation is the level that FEMA and the city and the county has decided would be the area where it would be flooding."
Page 2 of 3 - However, Bishop also noted that with the FEMA floodplain, a property is "either all in or all out."
"They have to insure that structure at the most hazardous flood risk zone," Bishop said, noting that even if most of a property does not fall in a high flood risk zone, though a small portion does, the lender must require that the property be covered at its highest level of risk.
Patterson said a property owner has a few options once they learn they are in a special flood hazard area.
"The first thing to consider is your property might be at risk, you need to buy flood insurance," Patterson said. "The second thing is maybe the map's not right, both of those happen. So if we look at the map revisions, the map might be wrong."
Patterson said some floodplain maps could have insufficient information, resulting in properties being reflected as at risk when they actually are not.
He gave an example of a residence located on a bluff, 82-feet above the river. Based solely on where it fell on the map, the corner of the property was considered in a floodplain.
"When FEMA hires a contractor to determine these flood maps, they're doing a whole county, you can't expect them to do every little detail because that would take hundreds of billions of dollars," Patterson said. "So, they do a very good job of taking the resources they have and making a map we can use. If you want more detailed information out of the location, that's where additional work comes into play."
He recommended those in an area with a set base flood elevation get an elevation certificate, while those outside of the area could pursue a letter of map amendment, which shows the map is incorrect or insufficient.
As Newton County is a member of the National Flood Insurance Program, and has been since the mid-1990s Roark said, some county residents have been receiving flood insurance at a subsidized rate.
However, Bishop said those rates could go up.
The Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 extended the National Flood Insurance Program for five years, Bishop said, though she said in its passing, Congress chose to seek some cost-cutting measures in the program.
As a result, Bishop said about 20 percent of flood insurance policy holders across the country could be affected by rate increases.
That number is even higher for Missouri, she said, with about 41 percent of the state's residents affected.
In Newton County that number is higher still, with about 65 percent of policyholders looking at possible rate increases.
Bishop said insurance on secondary homes located in special flood hazard areas, business properties and severe repetitive loss properties would likely receive a 25 percent rate increase.
Page 3 of 3 - Meanwhile, pre-firm properties, those built before the county's first map was drawn, might also see their rates spike.
The first map for Newton County was dated April 17, 1985, Bishop said, and those properties located in special flood hazard areas are currently eligible for a subsidized rate. Those properties, she said, are currently receiving a set rate, while properties that fall after the pre-firm date have their rates based on where they fall with the base flood elevation level.
She said while that is not currently changing, it is in the works, and those pre-firm properties could see their rates became based on the base flood elevation level, instead of receiving the subsidized rate.
"Owners of primary residences, you have one home, it's a pre-firm structure, they are not going to be receiving rate increases just yet," Bishop said. "Unless they let their property lapse, unless they sell their property, or unless they're buying a brand new property."
For more information on where a property falls within the floodplain, Neosho residents can contact city hall at 451-8050, while Newton County residents can contact the emergency management department at 451- 4357.
Property owners can also go online to www.floodsmart.gov to learn more.