U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) today encouraged community leaders, engineers and the people in flood prone areas to assess and then comment on a new risk assessment process that will replace the original method which was criticized by the lawmakers earlier this year. They argued that the original method disregarded the existence of uncertified levees and flood control structures and unjustly ignored actual flood protection and could require property owners in those areas to purchase National Flood Insurance Program policies unnecessarily.
"New methods that reflect the quality of existing levees is a more accurate and honest way for FEMA to assess flood risk," said Durbin. "The new mapping process that FEMA undertook at our request will give the Metro East area additional time to bring the levees into a good state of repair -- a process, already underway, that serves as the only long-term solution. I encourage area residents to continue taking steps to fully understand their flood risk and will continue working with my colleagues in Congress to see that this process is implemented fairly across the country."
"FEMA's move is a good first step in accurately determining the actual flood risk in a community," Senator Kirk said. "It is my hope that stakeholder involvement will improve flood maps, but much more needs to be done to bring levees up to federal standards. I will continue to work with Senator Durbin and our congressional delegation to expedite Army Corps reviews to prevent needless project delays in the Metro East."
The Federal Emergency Management Agency today opened a 45-day public comment period on a new National Flood Insurance Program proposal for assessing the flood risk for those living behind levees which is known as the "levee-inclusive" method. The new policy was drafted to replace the previous policy -- known as the "without levees" method -- which disregarded many sections of healthy levees and flood control structures in the process of updating Flood Insurance Rate Maps.
FEMA officials have briefed the lawmakers on the proposed levee analysis and mapping process, which would include new opportunities for local participation. Durbin, Kirk, Cochran, Pryor and Wicker led a successful bipartisan Senate effort in February to convince FEMA to end its "without levee" modeling process. In March, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate directed his agency to discontinue the practice of using "without levee" modeling in the Flood Insurance Rate Map modernization process.
"I am encouraged that FEMA has put forth a proposal and is opening it up to public scrutiny over the next month and a half. Obviously, this change is only a small step toward the long-term flood insurance reform we all would like to see, but I think we are moving closer to a policy that recognizes healthy infrastructure, encourages improvements, and gets closer to communicating actual risk to the public," Cochran said. "I am proud of our bipartisan work with FEMA to seek sensible, positive changes to the flood insurance program during a time when Congress has been unable to enact larger reforms to the program."
"This shift toward using more precise map modeling techniques is a step in the right direction for FEMA," Pryor said. "A more accurate analysis and depiction of actual flood risks will be valuable for families and businesses planning for the future."
"I am glad FEMA is responding to our concerns about the accuracy of flood modeling," said Wicker. "This new proposal and public comment period represent welcome progress, but until new maps take reasonable flood control structures into account, the process will still be inadequate. As we work toward NFIP reforms, I will continue working to make sure FEMA is using up-to-date and sound data for its flood maps."
The public comment notice was published in the Federal Register on Thursday. The comment period ends Jan. 30, 2012.
The "levee-inclusive" methodology would involve a process for more precisely assessing the actual flood risks in areas behind uncertified levees and other flood control structures. The FEMA proposal seeks to analyze levee systems by breaking them into distinct sections rather than wiping out entire levee systems during analysis if it identifies any concerns at any point in the system, as is the current practice. This data would then be used to draft higher fidelity flood maps that give flood protection credit for areas behind healthy levee sections.
Under the National Flood Insurance Program, if FEMA determines an area has a 1 percent annual chance of flood, property owners in that area are required to purchase National Flood Insurance Program coverage to protect against such hazards if their mortgage is backed by the federal government. Additionally, communities with Special Flood Hazard Areas are required to implement heightened land-use restrictions.
Communities across the country have complained that FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers have disregarded locally-funded flood control projects and repairs that may provide some level of actual protection in the development of the new flood maps.
Durbin, Kirk, Cochran, Pryor and Wicker worked together this year to find bipartisan, responsible and cost-effective solutions to the challenges facing communities protected by flood control infrastructure. Their February letter to Fugate was signed by 27 Senators--14 Republicans and 13 Democrats. A similar letter from the House of Representatives was signed by 49 Members of Congress.