FEMA flood map comes with pricey consequences

GV woman calls new survey a 'boondoggle'

KINGMAN - After living in her Golden Valley house for five years, Margaret Wene has suddenly found herself in the middle of a floodplain. At least that's what the Federal Emergency Management Agency determined after finishing its last flood insurance rate mapping survey in Mohave County last year.

According to the updated FEMA flood maps, Wene's and her neighbor's houses, which sit off of a section of Diabase Road that lies between Verde and Colorado roads, is now in a high-risk flood zone. The FEMA flood maps also put Wene and her neighbors' homes at a lower elevation than a small subdivision of houses near Red Wall Road, which flooded a few years ago, she said.

"This is the biggest boondoggle I've ever seen. I can't even see the tops of the roofs of those homes from my front porch and you're going to tell me that my house is lower than they are?" Wene said.

She was notified of the change when she received a letter from her insurance company saying that she was no longer eligible for the preferred flood rate due to the fact that her home sat in high-risk flood area. Her annual flood insurance payment went from $326 a year to $1,397 a year. Her insurance deductible went from $500 to $1,000. Because Wene has a loan on her property, her bank requires her to carry flood insurance.

"I don't mind having flood insurance, but this is ridiculous, ludicrous," she said.

The change in flood zone designation also means that Wene and her neighbors will likely have a hard time selling their homes, as one neighbor has already found out, she said.

Wene said she paid nearly $120,000 for her home and property in 2005, and since then she has added several thousand dollars in improvements.

"It's now worth about three-quarters of what I paid for it," she said.

Wene is no stranger to flood zones and other zoning issues. She sat on a county planning and zoning commission in New Jersey for nearly 18 years.

"I did my homework before I moved out here in 2005," she said. "I made sure I got permits for everything that needed permits. I know what happens when people don't get permits."

The property, at that time, was not listed in a FEMA flood zone.

"What has changed to create such a drastic change in the floodplain?" she asked.

As soon as she heard about the change, Wene contacted the Mohave County Flood Control District. County employees couldn't tell her why her home was now suddenly in a flood zone. They did tell her that she could challenge the FEMA designation by hiring an engineer to do a site survey of her property.

Wene looked into the idea and the cheapest survey of her property that she could get that would meet the FEMA challenge requirements would cost her about $2,500.

This is not the first time County Development Services Director Nick Hont has heard about a problem with the updated FEMA flood maps, which were revised in November. The previous maps had been in effect since the early 1980s. The county doesn't make the maps, it just administers them, Hont said.

Maps don't match

The county has noticed several instances where newly revised and digitized maps don't always match the old paper ones, he said. There are some areas where the flow of water on a property is off by as much as 6 feet on the updated maps, Hont said.

"We have some extensive problems in some areas," he said. "We're working on them on a case-by-case basis."

One area is in Mohave Valley, where the county's Flood Control District has had to fund multiple aerial mapping projects and strategic watershed studies in order to correct the FEMA maps, Hont said. FEMA has offered the county a rare $350,000 in funds to help pay for the corrections, one of two grants the western office, which is located in California, awarded last year. The total project is expected to cost around $500,000 and involves between 300 and 400 property owners, he said.

Another problem location is along a part of the Sacramento Wash in Golden Valley, Hont said. The maps made from a two-year FEMA study of the area don't always follow the correct path of the wash, he said.

The county doesn't determine the insurance rates for flood zones, Hont said. However, the county has helped residents and communities challenge flood risk maps in the past, he said. He encourages residents to contact the Mohave County Flood Control District about issues like the one Wene faces.

"We will try to help them if we can," he said.