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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 14, 2011

SCHUMER CALLS FOR INSPECTOR GENERAL TO INVESTIGATE PROCESS USED BY FEMA THAT FORCED THOUSANDS OF NASSAU RESIDENTS INTO NEW FLOOD MAPS REQUIRING THEM TO PURCHASE EXPENSIVE INSURANCE


Schumer Requests Inspector General Investigation into Mapping Process After Recent Information Emerged Suggesting FEMA was Told the Army Corps Could Not Support Validity of Flood Model Being Used that Put Nassau Residents into New Flood Elevations

Recent Reports Suggest FEMA Was Advised the Data May Not Be Most Accurate and Was Provided with Cost for Nassau-Specific Map Modeling

Schumer: FEMA’s Apparent Decision to Cut Costs Has Expensive Results for Nassau County Homeowners

United States Senator Charles E. Schumer called on the Inspectors General of both the US Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security, to conduct an independent investigation into the process, methodology, and relevance of data, collected by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for mapping in Suffolk County and ultimately used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to update flood maps in Nassau County. The new flood maps in Nassau County have forced over 25,000 new structures into high-cost flood insurance cones with premiums as high as $3,000 per year.
 
“Where there’s smoke, there is fire, and there is plenty of smoke here,” said Schumer. “From start to finish, FEMA’s flood mapping efforts in Nassau County appears to be flawed, both in terms of the actual data used and to determine the maps and the process for implementing them. If you are going to update a flood zone that could force thousands of Long Islanders into high-cost insurance plans, you’d better use the best science possible. It appears FEMA didn’t do that. That’s why I am calling for a top-to-bottom review of the data and the process that was used to create these new maps.”
 
Recent reports indicated that reservations were raised with officials at FEMA about the applicability of the data obtained from the USACE’s Suffolk County storm damage reduction study, known as the Fire Island to Montauk Point study (FIMP), before the Agency decided to move forward with mapping new flood elevation levels in Nassau County. In fact, FEMA was presented with a cost analysis of $1,082,000 from USACE for data collection specific to Nassau County for the purposes of redrawing flood maps. After receiving the proposals from USACE for Nassau-specific modeling, FEMA decided to use data already in its possession from Suffolk and apply the Suffolk mapping model to Nassau County. Local officials and coastal experts have expressed doubts with the level of scientific credibility in that application, citing different coastal characteristics, tide behaviors, and geography in Nassau that would require a specific model for that area. 
 
According to local officials, the FIMP study was specifically designed to look at potential effect of flooding on the Suffolk County shoreline in the bay area between Fire Island Inlet and Montauk Point, is considered "preliminary" by USACE, and was not made available for public review during the appeals period.  The Village of East Rockaway, which attempted to appeal its inclusion in the new maps, was denied access to the ‘preliminary study’- the very basis for its inclusion.
 
“Tens of thousands of impacted homeowners who may now have to pay new, steep insurance premiums want to know: If this Suffolk-based data was not ready for public review, then why was it used as a basis to draw new flood maps in heavily populated Nassau, that has a very different coastal geography?” said Schumer.
 
Given that the issues raised by Schumer cut across both Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security jurisdictions, Schumer has requested that the departments work together to determine:
 
1.      The suitability of the USACE preliminary and unpublished study titled Fire Island to Montauk Point Reformulation Study to be used as the key data set and model to update Nassau’s flood maps.
 
2.      Whether any discussions occurred between the staff of the USACE and FEMA regarding the accuracy of using the existing FIMP model for the Congressionally-mandated FIRM update in Nassau County, and, if so, how USACE was advised on the matter.
 
3.      Whether the development of a specific Nassau County USACE flood model will result in the most accurate update of the Nassau County special flood hazard area.
 
4.      Whether a new map modernization process using Nassau County-specific storm surge modeling data should be initiated for Nassau County.
 
Schumer has been highly critical of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood mapping techniques and has been pushing the agency to go back to the drawing board to devise a flood map plan that reflects the on the ground realities of communities now being impacted by new flood elevation requirements. The new modeling raised flood levels from approximately 8 feet to 11 feet for thousands of homes, despite the fact that a USACE model for Nassau was never developed and there is no historical record of flooding at the increased elevations. In December, Schumer introduced legislation that would implement a five-year moratorium on the requirement that Long Island homeowners purchase expensive new flood insurance policies if they live in a community recently designated as a flood zone. Schumer plans to reintroduce the legislation in the next several weeks.
 
“FEMA’s remapping of Nassau County has had significant consequences on resident’s wallets and property values,” continued Schumer. “It is imperative that any process, with a useful purpose, that has such a significant effect on so many thousands of people’s lives, be done with careful consideration, in an open process, and with the best possible data. I am deeply concerned that in this case, that didn’t happen.”
 
 
February 11, 2011
 
Gordon S. Heddell
Inspector General
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Inspector General
400 Army Navy Drive
Arlington, VA 22202-4704
 
Richard L. Skinner
Inspector General
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Office of the Inspector General
245 Murray Drive, SW, Bldg. 410
Washington, D.C. 20528
 
Dear Inspectors General:
 
I write today to urge that an investigation be opened into the process, methodology and relevance of the U.S. Army Corps (USACE) data used in the Flood Insurance Study from which the revised Flood Insurance Rate Maps were updated for the County of Nassau, New York by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  For the past number of months, local Nassau officials and homeowners have specifically criticized FEMA's use of USACE Suffolk County storm damage reduction study - better known as the Fire Island to Montauk Point study (FIMP) - to develop and update Nassau County's flood maps.  In 2009, FEMA's Nassau flood map update added over 25,000 new structures to the special flood hazard area.  I strongly believe that a revision of this magnitude needs to be based on the best science possible.
 
It is my understanding that the study used as the basis of the storm surge modeling program for Nassau County's map update was developed for a different geographic area and purpose by USACE.  According to local officials, the FIMP study was specifically designed to look at potential effect of flooding on the Suffolk County shoreline in the bay area between Fire Island Inlet and Montauk Point.  It is also my understanding that this study is considered "preliminary" by USACE and was not made available for public review during the appeals period. 
 
Given that this issue cuts across both Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security jurisdictions, I request that the departments work together to determine:
 
1.         The suitability of the USACE preliminary and unpublished study titled Fire Island to Montauk Point Reformulation Study to be used as the key data set and model to update Nassau’s flood maps.
 
2.         Whether any discussions occurred between the staff of the USACE and FEMA regarding the accuracy of using the existing FIMP model for the Congressionally-mandated FIRM update in Nassau County, and, if so, how USACE was advised on the matter.
 
3.         Whether the development of a specific Nassau County USACE flood model will result in the most accurate update of the Nassau County special flood hazard area.
 
4.         Whether a new map modernization process using Nassau County-specific storm surge modeling data should be initiated for Nassau County.
 
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me or my aide, Grant Kerr, in my Washington, D.C. office at 202-224-6542.
 
 
     Sincerely,
 
 
                                                                
     Charles E. Schumer 

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