Dike Concerns Could Be Key To FEMA Maps

The Royal Palm Beach Village Council last week discussed strategies to mitigate the new Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood maps released recently that could put as much as 60 percent of the village in a flood zone.

Unless changed, the new maps would require those property owners to carry flood insurance.

At a meeting Sept. 3, Councilman Fred Pinto said he was able to meet with the deputy director of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regarding the flood maps, as well as all of the projects regarding Lake Okeechobee.

“I was somewhat surprised to find out that one of the key issues that changed what they had done previously was that they are using a new, higher-risk assumption on the potential breaching of Lake Okeechobee’s Herbert Hoover Dike,” Pinto said. “It is that assumption that pushed this over the scale that they came up with a whole new mapping model.”

Pinto said he was able to use that information in a discussion with Congressman Patrick Murphy (D-District 18), who said he would use his office to coordinate a meeting with the commander of the U.S. Army Corps and the principal engineer who is working on the map modeling for FEMA.

Pinto asked that staff send a letter to Murphy’s office in order to have it in writing. “He is also very concerned about this issue,” Pinto said.

Vice Mayor Jeff Hmara said that Palm Beach County Water Resources Director Ken Todd indicated the last FEMA flood maps were generated in 1972. “Those maps didn’t show the development that we have, and consequently, would not have shown much of our properties in a high-risk zone at that point in time,” Hmara said.

Hmara noted that Royal Palm Beach is far from alone in having to deal with this issue.

“Along with the other 37 municipalities and the South Florida Water Management District, we continue to pursue the effort to correct what seems to be an inaccurate map based upon out-of-date elevation information, old models and some pretty extreme assumptions that have been made,” he said.

Hmara added that many of the municipalities, including Royal Palm Beach, have sent letters to FEMA. “In addition to that, we have encouraged support again from our congressional delegation, and they, too, have sent at least one letter that I know of to the director of FEMA,” he said.

Hmara said the combined effort persuaded FEMA to increase the time line, giving a total of eight months for the hearing process, including three months for local governments to generate data to submit to FEMA, which has indicated it will schedule a public hearing in April or May 2014.