A bipartisan group of 27 Senators today encouraged the Federal Emergency Management Agency to end its practice of ignoring some levees and flood control structures in cases where communities may be harmed by the lack of precision in new Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs).
Led by U.S. Senators Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the lawmakers sent a letter to FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate requesting that FEMA end the use of "without levee" modeling methods that discount the existence of levees and flood control structures that need repairs or recertification. The Senators only discouraged the use of "without levee" modeling in cases where communities could be negatively impacted.
The Senators asked Fugate to use his administrative authority to require FEMA, when requested by an affected community, to utilize more technical modeling methods that take into account the flood protection offered by existing flood control structures that have not been certified by FEMA.
"We support FEMA's efforts to maximize taxpayer dollars by choosing simpler, more cost-effective modeling techniques when appropriate," the lawmakers wrote. "However, in cases where FEMA treats a flood control structure as if it has been completely wiped off of the map, we may be unnecessarily devaluing property and hurting the economies of cities, towns, counties and businesses. This approach is particularly troubling since FEMA has the tools at its disposal to obtain more precise data. Just because a levee is under repair or needs to be recertified does not mean that it provides no flood protection at all or that its level of protection cannot be sufficiently modeled."
"When American jobs are at risk, FEMA should use the methods readily available to it rather than settling for an all-or-nothing approach, thus shifting the financial burden from the federal government to local governments and their citizens," the letter stated.
The lawmakers believe such a policy change would improve the precision of the new FIRMs and increase public confidence in the FEMA flood map modernization process to produce maps that more precisely reveal flood risks when necessary.
If FEMA determines an area has a 1 percent annual chance of flood, property owners in that area must purchase National Flood Insurance Program policies to protect against such hazards. 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.