July 24--Design work for upgrading levees around Live Oak and Yuba City isn't just about better flood protection; it's also a race against the prospect of higher flood insurance premiums.
Property owners in what's called the Yuba City basin got a reprieve earlier this year when the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced a break in remapping areas like Sutter County to more accurately determine their flood risk.
If the remapping had proceeded, much of the county would've been labeled as a special risk flood zone, meaning levees protecting it didn't meet new standards and therefore couldn't be counted on in case of a high-water event.
Daniel Peterson, chief of the water resources division for Sutter County, said being mapped into a special risk zone would've required sizable flood insurance for any property affiliated with government backing for purchase, such as through a Federal Housing Administration loan.
"It would be a logistical nightmare," he said, explaining the flood risk is expected to be far less once levee upgrades are finished in a few years by the Sutter Butte Flood Control Agency.
But in the meantime, the premiums could be anywhere from $1,100 a year on some homes to as much as $2,400 for others or commercial properties, Peterson said.
Sutter County Supervisor James Gallagher, whose district includes southern Sutter County, said the special risk designation being applied would result in property owners paying both higher insurance premiums and an assessment to pay for levee repairs at the same time.
"It would be a waste of resources to map us, only to have to come back and map us again," said Gallagher, who's also on the Sutter Butte board of directors. "You want to make sure FEMA has the most updated information."
So far, FEMA officials haven't said when they'll restart the remapping process. Peterson said the crux is determining how much protection a levee -- even an old one that's not much more than a pile of dirt -- still provides nearby property owners.
Sutter Butte work, which is currently in design phase, is scheduled to be finished by 2015.
Even then, the agency's work is only aimed at the county's more populated areas, such as Yuba City and Live Oak.
Peterson said the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan, which is scheduled to be broken into regional components, is meant to address flood protection for more rural areas.
CONTACT Ben van der Meer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-4786. Find him on Facebook at /ADbvandermeer or on Twitter at @ADbvandermeer.
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