FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 13, 2010
SCHUMER TO FEMA: GO BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD; DEMANDS AGENCY STOP IMPLEMENTATION OF LI FLOOD MAP PLAN WITH SO MANY INACCURACIES
Senator Questions Models Used That Raised Levels
United States Senator Charles E. Schumer, in Valley Stream today for a meeting with local leaders from various flood map-impacted LI communities, called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to put in place a moratorium on flood insurance requirements and, instead, 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.
At a meeting in Valley Stream Village Hall, Schumer pointed out that the maps used are too inaccurate, outdated, and the survey techniques flawed. Schumer also noted that some of these communities have no history of significant flooding, yet are now included in flood map plans because FEMA has increased base flood elevations. Schumer questioned the scientific and historical justification for some of these increases. While FEMA has made minor concessions to check a few homes and areas, Schumer is demanding the agency go back to the drawing board to initiate a comprehensive block-by-bloc, house-by-house on-the-ground survey and to consider local historical records.
“What this flood map plan and FEMA’s implementation of it shows is that Washington bureaucracy needs a healthy dose of common sense,” said Schumer. “Checking out few parcels here and there is simply not enough. FEMA needs to put more boots on the ground and do a top-to-bottom review of all communities that are being impacted by these new maps that includes a house-to-house assessment of these maps; we need to stick to flood levels that are rooted in the reality of experience and hard data, and we are just not at the place yet. When the result is hammering already struggling homeowners with thousands of dollars in new fees, you have to do your homework. And you have to get it right. We need better, more community-specific justification for the increase in these flood levels because there are some places where it just does not make sense given history.”
In September 2009, FEMA implemented new flood maps throughout Nassau County that forced over 20,000 new homeowners to purchase flood insurance plans, that most had previously not been required to have, of up to $2,000 per year. In communities like Valley Stream, Massapequa Park, and throughout the Town of Hempstead, areas which have little to no recorded history of significant flooding to the new base elevation levels, residents are being forced to purchase insurance at the same levels as coastal communities.
Schumer criticized FEMA’s development of the maps for being inaccurate, outdated, and based on survey techniques that are not as accurate as on the ground house-by-house assessments. First, they were designed through old GIS data mapping techniques that FEMA admits can be inexact in measuring elevation levels of homes. In fact, FEMA noted in August that GIS surveys are broad in scale and create topographical maps instead of house-by-house measurements. The agency noted the process is not 100% accurate. While such approaches may work in vast, rural areas of the country, in highly populated mature suburban communities, like those in Nassau County, they can prove to be very inaccurate. Recent reports have shown that over 50% of individual challenges to new flood map designations have been successfully challenged by local homeowners and local residents are stuck footing the bill to prove FEMA wrong. In the Mill Brook section of Valley Stream, for example, six individual residents have filed appeals and were removed from the maps, casting doubt on this neighborhoods inclusion in the new zone.
Secondly, Schumer questioned the new flood elevation modeling, which in Valley Stream for instance, raised flood levels from approximately 8 feet to 11 feet for thousands of homes, despite the fact that there has never been a flood at that level. The senator noted that he will press FEMA to justify the increased flood level for the communities that have never experienced flooding before. Schumer is demanding that FEMA work with individual communities and local governments to document historical records that show no significant flooding at the elevation levels imposed on them and to re-draw the maps where appropriate. In Massapequa Park for instance, Aster Street residents noted that while their street has not flooded at the levels imposed by FEMA they were included in the new elevations despite that fact that neighboring streets were not. FEMA representatives have even acknowledged at a recent meeting that the agency's data was based on a study of Aster Street done in 1980, not 2010.
Schumer is demanding that FEMA go back to the drawing board, put an immediate moratorium in place and conduct a comprehensive on the ground, house-by-house assessment of these flood maps noting that homeowners should not be forced to pay for individual challenges to maps. Schumer is also calling on FEMA to reexamine flood level modeling that raised base flood elevations to levels never experienced before.
“All the evidence points to a significant misfire by FEMA in its mapping, modeling, and implementation and Long Island residents should not be victims of their inaccuracy,” Schumer continued. “FEMA needs to go back to the drawing board and get this right.”
A copy of Schumer’s letter to FEMA can be found below:
The Honorable W. Craig Fugate
Dear Administrator Fugate,
After hearing from numerous constituents and local leaders and examining the issue, I write to alert you to my concerns regarding the accuracy and fairness of new flood maps for long Island, New York, including, but not limited to, the communities of the Village of Valley Stream, the Town of Hempstead, and Massapequa Park.
Precisely identifying which homes ought to acquire flood insurance is a worthy and necessary goal. Yet, there is too much error inherent in the technology and data used to prepare these maps, and – in highly populated mature suburban community like Long Island – these errors result in many hundreds, if not thousands, of homeowners, unnecessarily being added to flood maps, when, in fact, history and a more precise examination of all available data and technology may well conclude that their homes are not at significant risk of flooding. Specifically, outdated GIS technology and questionable base flood elevation standards have adversely impacted this community, with more than 20,000 local residents being added to FEMA’s special flood hazard area (SFHA). Using incomplete or potentially inaccurate data, the federal government has burdened already cash-strapped families with insurance premiums that can reach as high as $2,000 – no small matter as we struggle to emerge from this economic recession. Given the significance of this economic impact, it is incumbent upon FEMA to be sure that each and every home added to the proposed flood map, merits inclusion. Simply put, the flood maps, as they currently construed, do not yet meet that standard. More can and must be done before the implantation of this map is allowed to continue, and more and more potentially low-risk homeowners are added to it.
While the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials have usefully suggested they would send a small team to spot check a few areas and reexamine a few of the properties impacted, this is hardly sufficient. Because these new flood maps are affecting upwards of 20,000 residents, it is imperative that FEMA put many more boots on the ground to conduct a comprehensive, block-by block, house-specific survey to get the job done right. In the interim, I am requesting that FEMA put in place a complete moratorium and suspension of the flood insurance requirement for this region until such time as a comprehensive reassessment is complete. Thank you for your attention to this very important issue. Please contact me or my aide, Grant Kerr, at 202-224-6542 if you have questions or need additional information.
Thank you for your attention to this very important issue. Please contact me or my aide, Grant Kerr, at 202-224-6542 if you have questions or need additional information.