The Western Communities Council agreed last week to draft a resolution to the Federal Emergency Management Agency objecting to recently released flood maps that local officials believe are full of inaccuracies and could raise the flood insurance rates of most residents of the western communities.
The July 18 decision was in response to a presentation at their previous meeting by Palm Beach County Water Resources Manager Ken Todd, who said that the new FEMA maps, if not contested, would affect most county property owners.
Wellington Village Manager Paul Schofield said many of the map measurements were in NGVD (National Geodetic Vertical Datum), which is no longer the standard. It has been replaced with North American Vertical Datum, or NAVD.
“They don’t sound like they’re much different, but it’s sort of like the mean sea level, the thing that we used prior to 1930, was a different level. Mean sea level is not the same as the number in the National Geodetic Vertical Datum, and it’s not the same number as the NAVD, and it looks like when they converted from NGVD to NAVD, they didn’t do it correctly,” Schofield said at the meeting. “If you’re off in a county as flat as Palm Beach County by as little as a tenth, it can significantly impact flooding projections.”
Schofield noted that the modeling technique used is no longer even the approved standard. “They used a modeling technique that FEMA doesn’t even approve anymore,” he said. “Treat us the same as you treat everybody else is really all that we’re asking.”
Greenacres City Manager Wadie Atallah said a number of studies that were done were not taken into account as part of the modeling used to create the maps.
“For example, the South Florida Water Management District has been doing quite a bit of work going back to the point of support that has been done to make drainage improvements and stormwater management improvements that were not taken into account as part of this modeling,” Atallah said. “It shows that many more areas are going to be inundated in a 100-year flood when, in fact, they are not.”
Wellington Deputy Village Manager John Bonde, who is also secretary of the Western Communities Council, said he met with SFWMD officials who said the C-51 Canal rule was created in the 1980s to counteract flooding, which was starting to get worse due to increased development in the western communities, and the C-51 Canal could no longer handle outfall.
“[SFWMD] created a rule that houses had to be elevated and additional storage, lakes and ponds, had to be part of every development to store that water because it was inundating the canal’s capacity to handle it during flooding conditions,” Bonde said. “That rule was adopted in 1981, and we’ve been living under that rule ever since.”
Since that time, Bonde pointed out that a new flood control structure has been built on the C-51 just west of State Road 7, which isolated the western C-51 from the eastern C-51.
“As part of a study that was done, the western C-51 was going to have much more flood protection guaranteed than it would before,” Bonde said. “If that was true, then why are the flood maps not indicating that?”
Schofield said he believes that the FEMA modelers forgot to include the structure in their calculations.
Bonde said there are things municipal leaders need to do from a technical standpoint that would require the input of engineers and other professionals.
“We need to take the best of each of our communal entities and put a consolidated position in,” Bonde said. “Obviously, we don’t have the resources to do that yet ourselves. We can assess for it and each put in a kitty, or we can use what we have individually and collectively take a position, so I don’t know what you want to do, but I’m here to serve you.”
Attallah said the council should put FEMA on notice that the maps are inaccurate.
“We want accurate maps, and we will be happy to provide whatever information they need to make these maps accurate,” he said.
He suggested they inform FEMA within the response time that the agency has inaccurate maps and point out some of the examples, and then follow the League of Cities’ request to extend the time frame.
Wellington Councilman Howard Coates, chairman of the Western Communities Council, said it is an issue that the multi-agency organization was designed to handle.
“This strikes me as a tailor-made issue for this council to take a collective position on,” Coates said. “I think we would be remiss if we didn’t express it. When you talk about fundamental problems that go to the structuring of the modeling, to the underlying data, whether they have included water control structures in the modeling, those are fundamental things that affect everybody.”
As an example of disparities in the FEMA maps, Bonde said, in Wellington the modern communities of Olympia and Buena Vida east of State Road 7, which are in the Lake Worth Drainage District rather than in Wellington’s Acme Improvement District, are shown as in the flood plain.
“How could that be when other areas that had shown more flooding during Isaac than they did, but they are shown not being in it?” Bonde said. “It doesn’t even logically match up to what we saw.”
James Dubois of the Seminole Improvement District asked whether the League of Cities is the best agency to see that the maps are amended, and Atallah said the two bodies should pursue it both individually and together.
Schofield said the only group FEMA will listen to collectively is the county. “Ken Todd is working on that, but each jurisdiction needs to move forward with their own challenges and their own data,” he said. “What the League of Cities offers is a group of consultants and a wider forum so that if there is other information available, it becomes available to us.”
Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Michael Gauger said they should also talk to their legislators.
“In addition to sending a letter to FEMA, which may just blow you off, if you get your legislators involved, and every city is sending in letters, and the county is sending in letters, the League of Cities is sending in letters, the Western Communities Council sends in letters, somebody is going to take notice and maybe do something,” he said.
Bonde said they have 90 to 120 days to raise objections and that the maps will not be adopted for another year. “The sooner the better,” he said. “I’m not suggesting we wait that long.”
Bonde suggested a resolution that represents all of the entities, but reserves leeway for individual entities. “There’s a lot of differences,” he said. “What’s good for Loxahatchee Groves and the issues that you’re facing are different than the ones in Wellington, but there is a common thread throughout.”
Schofield made a motion to collect all the objections from each of the member agencies and submit them to the League of Cities, asking the League of Cities if it would agree to partner with the Western Communities Council as a resource database, and to individually and collectively pursue objections with FEMA. The motion carried 9-0.
Coates suggested also drafting a resolution that could be reviewed by each of the members prior to the next meeting to give them enough time to get consensus of their respective agencies.
Atallah made a motion to prepare a resolution asking FEMA to take appropriate action to correct the maps, which also passed 9-0.