RPB Making Plans To Respond To FEMA Flood Maps

The Royal Palm Beach Village Council is making headway in its plans to respond to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s new flood maps, which place most of the western communities in a flood zone.

At the Aug. 15 council meeting, Vice Mayor Jeff Hmara said he had spent six hours at a recent FEMA meeting in West Palm Beach along with Councilman David Swift, Village Engineer Chris Marsh and about 50 other representatives of various municipalities and local government agencies regarding the federal agency’s new maps.

“Initially, it was a matter of exchanging concerns over the quality and accuracy of the preliminary maps that have been put out by FEMA, and the concern was that a lot of the properties that were not considered to be in flood zones are now considered to be in flood zones,” Hmara said. “The primary concern is that the map is based on information that is out of date and may not be accurate, and the models used to produce the maps may also be out of date.”

Most officials were asking to delay the process for finalizing the maps until they could produce more accurate, up-to-date information, and the South Florida Water Management District could finish its modeling work, Hmara said.

He added that FEMA officials have responded that the agency will extend the opportunity for Palm Beach County and its entities to provide more accurate and current information for them to consider.

“Hopefully the end result will be a more accurate representation of the flood zones,” Hmara said, explaining that the impact of the preliminary maps, if not amended, could require flood insurance for homeowners where it was not required before, and higher rates for those who currently have flood insurance. “It’s a particularly important issue for us. We are engaged, and we will stay on that.”

Councilman Fred Pinto said there has been a lot of discussion about FEMA’s new approach to flood mapping, as well as issues emerging after the flooding from Tropical Storm Isaac.

“There have been many dialogues between multiple agencies and multiple municipalities trying to come up with some solutions to address the problem,” Pinto said, pointing out that County Commissioner Jess Santamaria has formed a task force to look at the issue and work with the SFWMD to reach a reasonable solution, as opposed to individual entities trying to come up with their own solution that could bring harm to neighboring cities. “I am a member of this task force, and what I would like to get is consensus from this council so I can speak for and represent the village.”

Pinto also pointed out that other members include two water experts, Palm Beach County Water Resources Manager Ken Todd and Indian Trail Improvement District Engineer Jay Foy, who also sits on the county’s Water Resources Task Force. Pinto asked that Marsh and Royal Palm Beach Village Manager Ray Liggins be involved as well.

Pinto said he will continue to update the council. “Right now, the topic of the task force is this FEMA flood mapping issue, but it is advised to look at all the flooding issues,” he said.

Pinto added that the Indian Trail Improvement District has filed a formal application with the SFWMD to increase its ability to discharge stormwater in emergencies.

“Initially, it appears that their approach is to just run the water through our village,” Pinto said. “The village manager has already responded to that application that we are not in support of that initial recommendation, and we will be involved in looking at that application as it proceeds. We need to come up with a regional solution. A regional solution means you’re not going to hurt one area to satisfy another. There is no one silver bullet to solve this issue. It will take multiple components to come up with a regional approach.”

Marsh said there are some technical issues with the FEMA maps related to the data and age of the models. “We addressed those issues to FEMA,” he said. “They have listened. They have given us the opportunity to get our technical data, and the biggest thing is they are going to accept the C-51 [Canal] study from the South Florida Water Management District, which we think will be favorable for our area.”

The deadline is Nov. 30 for reports to be submitted, he said.

“I have requested a proposal from [consulting firm] CDM Smith to evaluate the results of that study that we should be getting in the next couple of weeks,” Marsh said. “I’ll be bringing the proposal to the council at the next meeting, hopefully for your approval so they can get started looking at the technical end of that data.”

Marsh explained that CDM Smith had done stormwater control modeling for the village in 2006. “They basically will update the 2006 model and relay that information to FEMA,” he said. “After they get the technical data from the cities and engineers, they’ll evaluate it and redo the preliminary maps and roll those out in a technical meeting sometime in the spring, and sometime after that, there will be a public open house.”

That will kick off a 90-day appeals window. Marsh said it is not known how long it will take to resolve the appeals, but after that, there will be a six-month adoption period. “Best-case scenario, we are looking at May 2015 before we will see new maps,” Marsh said.

Swift said he thought that the village is on top of the issue. “It could affect our residents gravely if the maps that they currently have go into effect,” he said. “We are fighting that fight as best we can with all the resources that we have.”