SCHUMER: NEW INFORMATION COULD PREVENT 150 PROPERTIES FROM BEING ADDED TO SYRACUSE FLOOD ZONE MAP SET TO COME OUT SOON – URGES FEMA TO FIRST INCORPORATE NEW DATA TO PREVENT HOMEOWNERS FROM UNNECESSARY & ONEROUS FLOOD INSURANCE COSTS
NYS Study of Onondaga Creek Shows Error in FEMA’s Latest Flood Zone Proposal – New Measurements of Onondaga Creek Show That Approximately 150 Properties are Incorrectly Included In FEMA’s Preliminary Flood Zone Map
Schumer Pushes FEMA To Use New, More Accurate Data When Rolling Out Revised Flood Map – If FEMA Does Not Incorporate This Data In Its Revised Map, It Could Be Very Difficult to Correct Later; Would Be Devastating For Affected Homeowners, Who Could Be Forced To Pay Up to $1,200 More Per Year in Flood Insurance Premiums
Schumer to FEMA: We Should Use the Most Accurate Data & Not Put Homes In A Flood Zone That Do Not Need to Be There
Today, at Creek Walk Bridge in Syracuse, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer urged the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to incorporate newly discovered data into its soon-to-be-released Syracuse flood zone map that would prevent 150 homes from being added to the flood zone and being forced to pay up to $1,200 per year in flood insurance premiums. Schumer explained that the City of Syracuse, along with New York State environmental officials, believe that the flood zone map FEMA is about to release includes inaccurate measurements of Onondaga Creek, which overestimate the potential for flooding. Schumer said that FEMA must incorporate the City of Syracuse and New York State’s new findings into its revised map that is set to be released in the next several weeks. Schumer urged FEMA to hold off on releasing the new flood zone map until FEMA considers the new information Syracuse will provide. Schumer said that without accounting for the new data, the proposed map could lead to unnecessary, onerous costs for homeowners and it could lead to added confusion if further revisions are made after the map is released.
“Right now, FEMA has 150 homes and properties in the City of Syracuse incorporated into its flood zone based on potentially inaccurate and outdated measurements of Onondaga Creek’s potential to flood. But when being included into these flood maps means residents paying hundreds, even thousands, extra in insurance costs, it is unacceptable to use anything other than the most accurate, up-to-date information,” said Schumer. “No family should be forced to buy sky-high flood insurance unless they truly need it. That is why I am calling on FEMA to incorporate new information from the City of Syracuse about the width and make-up of the creek into the revised maps that are scheduled to be released in the coming weeks. These 150 properties should not be put in a flood zone, and their owners forced to pay onerous flood insurance costs, based on outdated information. We cannot afford to gloss over inaccuracies and make mistakes that could bring serious consequences to Syracuse residents and property owners.”
Schumer said that it is important FEMA acknowledge that the City of Syracuse has compiled data that challenges its own as it relates to Onondaga Creek’s measurements, and that FEMA correct these inaccuracies in its revised maps. Schumer explained that, starting in the fall of 2013, a private engineering firm hired by the City of Syracuse, OBG, worked with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to study the waterway in order to better understand Onondaga Creek’s potential for flooding. This study, called the ‘NYSDEC Onondaga Creek and Dam Study,’ found many discrepancies between data included in FEMA’s previous flood maps and newly surveyed data. These discrepancies were related to the width of Onondaga Creek and the sediment found within the channel. According to the City and DEC’s study, the flood zone map FEMA is about to release includes inaccurate measurements of Onondaga Creek, which overestimates the potential for flooding. According to the City, their joint study with the DEC found that in several key sections in the center city, Onondaga Creek is deeper and wider than FEMA had calculated. This means the creek has the potential to hold more water than initially calculated, diminishing its risk for flooding overall. Because these maps overestimate the potential for flooding, Schumer is urging the federal agency to take this newly discovered information into account when revising and releasing its new flood maps.
By incorporating this new information about the width and sediment in Onondaga Creek, and adjusting the maps to reflect the accurate potential for future flooding, Schumer said an additional 150 properties in the City of Syracuse could be taken out of the flood zone. Schumer said that preventing these 150 homes and properties from being added to the flood zone is critical, as those within the mapped zone could be forced to pay between $250 and $1,200 more per year in flood insurance premiums. Schumer explained that these FEMA maps initially began with 1,205 new properties incorporated into the flood zone back in 2010, but thanks to his continued pushing for FEMA to keep working with locals, that number now includes about 800. However, there are still more homes that can benefit by being removed from the mapped zone before it comes out, likely in the next few weeks. Schumer said that while it is inevitable that some homes will end up in the FEMA flood zone, it is important that the homes and properties that do not need to be in the zone, or are only in there as a result of this inaccurate data, be removed before the new map is released. Schumer is working to have these additional 150 properties removed because they may have been unjustifiably added into the flood zone based on incorrect FEMA measurements of Onondaga Creek.
Schumer said that addressing these measurement inaccuracies now and revising the long-awaited maps before they are released by FEMA is the most effective approach, as changing these maps again can lead to greater confusion and potentially further delays if done after the fact. Schumer cited the very fact that revising the 2010 maps took the federal agency four years. Schumer said that home and property owners cannot afford to wait years again, and it is important these revisions are done now, before the release of the maps, so that inaccuracies can be corrected immediately and these 150 properties are not mistakenly included in the flood zone.
Schumer was joined by Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner.
Schumer has long been an advocate of ensuring FEMA flood maps released in the Syracuse area are fair to home and property owners. In 2010, FEMA released flood maps that would have required over 1,200 property owners to purchase flood insurance for the first time under the new maps. Following the map release, Schumer urged the federal agency to provide the City of Syracuse the time needed to appeal these maps and protect property owners in Onondaga County. In 2012, Schumer asked FEMA to delay implementation of new flood hazard maps for the City of Syracuse until city officials were able to complete critical flood mitigation projects to lower flood risk. Schumer wrote to FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate and highlighted the fact that Syracuse had identified at least six flood risk prevention measures that could remove homeowners from the latest flood zone, in which 892 residents could be required to pay significantly higher rates. Following his push, FEMA revised its preliminary map determination in June 2012, which removed 242 properties from the Onondaga Creek flood zone. In 2012, Schumer also called on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to investigate whether mortgage lenders are unfairly demanding more coverage than is required by the federal government and improperly inflating flood insurance costs in Central New York.
In March 2014, Schumer announced that, after his urging, Congress voted to scrap parts of a 2012 law that would have imposed massive flood insurance rate hikes on the owners of approximately 3,000 properties in Central New York. Schumer said that it was important to prevent these drastic rate hikes, as many Central New York property owners could have lost their homes or been financially strained because of the crushing rates. Today, Schumer explained that these FEMA maps that initially began with 1,205 new properties incorporated into the flood zone now include 800. Schumer said that while it is inevitable that some homes will end up in the mapped zone, it is important that the homes and properties that do not need to be in the zone, or are only in there as a result of inaccurate data, be removed in the revised maps. Schumer is now working to have another 150 properties, which may have been unfairly added into the flood zone because of these incorrect measurements of Onondaga Creek, removed from these maps.
The Onondaga Creek is 27 miles in length and travels nine miles through the City of Syracuse. The creek was built roughly 100 years ago and is concrete-lined to carry water from the City to Onondaga Lake.
A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to FEMA appears below:
Dear Administrator Fugate:
I write today as it relates to the City of Syracuse and your agency's planned release of their community's revised preliminary flood maps. It is my understanding that FEMA is set to release these maps in the coming weeks. However, before doing so, I believe is it crucial for your agency to consider new, vital information that could impact the zoning of as many as 150 properties that have been included in previous draft maps already shared with Syracuse officials.
As you know, I have been working on this issue from the onset and through this process new information and subsequent revisions have led to more than 400 Syracuse homeowners to be mapped out of the mandated National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). With FEMA’s analysis and validation of Syracuse’s new data, generated alongside the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), I believe your agency may be able to rezone roughly 150 additional properties that I understand to currently be part of FEMA’s draft of the county's revised preliminary map.
City and FEMA officials alike know that the mapping of this new zone must be based off of only the best data and the best science. It is my understanding that the City of Syracuse’s new data meets that mark in its accuracy and if so, should be immediately considered as part of your finalizing process. This new information has the potential to improve upon FEMA’s own data as it relates to Onondaga Creek’s measurements with more accurate measurements and survey data.
In fact, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) study, called the ‘NYSDEC Onondaga Creek and Dam Study,’ found many discrepancies between data included in FEMA’s previous flood maps and the newly surveyed data. These discrepancies relate to the width of Onondaga Creek and the sediment found within the channel. The study discovered that the creek has the potential to hold more water than initially calculated, diminishing its risk for flooding overall. If FEMA is able to incorporate this new information related to the width and sediment in the creek, and adjust the maps to reflect the accurate potential for future flooding, it is my understanding that the aforementioned properties within the City of Syracuse could be removed from the flood zone entirely.
Again, I applaud FEMA for working so well with the City of Syracuse and I respectfully urge your agency to take a look at this new data as soon as possible. It is important to get the maps right from the beginning. This will be more efficient and reduce the potential for confusion in this process.
I look forward to continuing to update you as it relates to the City of Syracuse’s flood maps and invite you to contact me should you have any additional questions on any of these issues.
Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator