Wellington officials have been working hard behind the scenes to remedy the outdated calculations that led to the first draft of the controversial Federal Emergency Management Agency flood maps released last year.
Village Engineer Bill Riebe updated the Town-Crier this week on some of the actions taken by Wellington regarding the FEMA flood maps.
FEMA is updating its flood maps for all of Palm Beach County, and Wellington is included in those updates.
“When FEMA came out with the initial preliminary maps in 2013, it didn’t really account for the improvements, developments and so on, since they were last updated roughly 20 years ago,” Riebe said. “For that reason, and a host of other assumptions, the information that they had at their disposal was not accurate.”
In the draft maps, the majority of Wellington was categorized as a high-hazard flood zone. The categories are based on the probability of a flood over the course of 100 years, commonly known as the 100-year floodplain.
“It has a 1 percent probability of occurrence within any given year, based on how many inches of rain you get within a prescribed period of time,” Riebe explained. “We looked at those maps, and, because of the impact, it was significant and it was village-wide. We made a conscious decision to go out and get better information and provide that to FEMA.”
FEMA’s revised maps, published in August, reflect updated data, categorizing most structures in Wellington as being within Zone X, a zone with far less of a flood hazard. “That has big implications for flood insurance,” Riebe said. “If you’re within a high-hazard flood zone, especially if you have a mortgage, you’re required to carry flood insurance. If you’re outside the high-hazard flood zone, then you’re not required to carry flood insurance. But again, that’s up to each individual property owner, because there is rainfall, or storm events, that exceed that 1 percent probability.”
Though the risk of flooding is small, there is a risk every year. However, that risk was exaggerated in the maps proposed by FEMA in 2013, which spurred action from Wellington’s government.
“The bottom line is, Wellington took a very proactive approach to address a really serious issue for residents village-wide,” Riebe said. “We have worked closely with FEMA to provide accurate information. Now, those maps reflect what’s really on the ground here in Wellington. It’s good news for everyone.”
But the good news came with a price tag. Wellington spent roughly $100,000 in pursuit of updated topographical and hydraulic information to provide to FEMA.
“It was a cost, but it was a wise investment based on savings for residents at large,” Riebe explained.
It took time, hard work and dedication — a year, in fact — to gather the information necessary for the maps to reflect the current landscape and structures. If that effort hadn’t taken place, Riebe estimates that that anywhere from 40 percent to 50 percent of Wellington’s structures would have been considered in the high-risk zone.
By focusing on accuracy, Wellington effectively saved residents millions of dollars in unnecessary insurance costs.
“The savings are significant,” Riebe said. “It is meaningful money for the residents of Wellington. Those premiums are due every year, so it’s a savings every year in perpetuity. It’s not just a one-year savings; this is for the life of the property.”
In the future, updates with FEMA will be easier now that an extensive process has been put into place. It will just be a matter of updating undeveloped or lesser-developed areas with current topographical information.