Grand County considers opting out of federal flood insurance program
March 5, 2008
If Grand County does not engage in the National Flood Insurance Program under the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the county may not be eligible for federal grant money for flood, hazard, pre-disaster mitigation or flood mitigation assistance, according to Barb Fitzpatrick, a Colorado National Flood Insurance Specialist.
But county commissioners think the program forces governments to take on something they may not really need, calling it an “unfunded mandate” that strips communities the right to apply for federal grants.
Commissioner Gary Bumgarner called it “federal heavy-handedness.”
Already, commissioners discussed Tuesday, the county requires developers through regulations to address potential flood hazards as part of subdivision review.
And unincorporated Grand County includes close to nil properties in flood plain areas, according to Grand County Director of Emergency Management Ray Jennings.
Maps provided by FEMA show that most flood-prone areas in Grand County are uninhabited agricultural and ranch lands, he said, and nearly all homes are not within flood plains.
Signing on to the national program may mean “parts and pieces that cost the taxpayers money,” Jennings said.
That doesn’t mean the county isn’t concerned about flooding.
“It’s not that the county doesn’t want to be participatory or is taking a blind eye,” Jennings said. “If we’re going to be required to do something, is it really a value to us in the whole scheme of things? What is the value? We need to make sure we’re doing what is prudent.”
Federal applications for grants (including wildfire mitigation funds), he said, involve loads of staff time to prepare and in the end, could mean the fruitless spending of a significant amount of taxpayer money.
“Do you as a taxpayer want to foot the bill for engineering and consulting fees when you could be spending money on fixing roads and other services?” he said.
Governments can voluntarily join the national flood program, but not doing so means residents and businesses within their jurisdictions cannot qualify for flood insurance, which is supplied by FEMA.
The towns of Fraser and Winter Park, which Jennings said do contain hazardous flood plain areas, have joined. So has the town of Grand Lake. Granby is considering it.
The county stated it plans to draft a letter to FEMA outlining reasons why it shouldn’t join.
But Fitzpatrick thinks the county would have little to lose by signing on. Since flood zone areas are deemed agricultural and ranch land, “it would be an easy, minimal program to run,” she said, “and it would make the county available for other grant programs and would make flood insurance available to its citizens.”
Jennings differs, saying the county would be subjected to paying more in staff time, maintaining the program, reviewing maps and making changes every time FEMA makes map changes.
In the face of mounting flood losses and escalating costs of disaster relief to U.S. taxpayers, Congress established the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) in 1968.
“The goals of the program are to reduce future flood damage through flood plain management, and to provide people with flood insurance,” according to http://www.floodsmart.gov. The program was born out of individual insurance providers’ inability to manage such a service due to expense.
And, say, there were a post-wildfire flood? The erosion due to wildfire could create water run off, “but that doesn’t cause a flood plain,” Jennings said.
“Therefore, even if the county were part of the national flood insurance, (homes flooded due to run-off) wouldn’t be covered,” he said.
Fitzpatrick neither confirmed nor disputed the ramifications to homeowners of a post-wildfire flood if the county decides to turn down the program.
“You have to be in a flood plain to be eligible for flood insurance,” Jennings said.
The county, which has not yet made a final decision on the matter, is examining the “facts, truths, and myths of the program and is having everything laid out on the table to determine what is a true benefit to us,” Jennings said.
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