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Girard neighborhood fights flood-zone designation

By Valerie Myers, Erie Times-News, Pa.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

June 08--GIRARD -- A small stream that meanders through the Sunset subdivision in Girard Borough occasionally floods its banks after heavy rains. About six years ago, after several days of rain, it knocked down a small footbridge on neighboring church property.

But because the stream's banks are only a few inches high in places and the footbridge was just inches above that, nearby homeowners aren't worried about flooding or flood damage.

Plus, the stream runs underground through most of the neighborhood and apparently isn't significant enough to have a name. A new Federal Emergency Management Agency flood-zone map refers to it as Unnamed Stream to Lake Erie No. 9.

But the little stream could cost some neighbors big money.

The new flood-zone map includes some properties in the subdivision in Flood Zone A, at higher risk of flooding. Homeowners have been required to buy federally approved flood insurance as a result.

"It doesn't make sense," said Franne Carnahan, who lives in the 100 block of Lourdes Drive. "This stream, where it's above ground, most of the time is about half the width of the sidewalk. And yet we went from Flood Zone X (at low risk of flooding) to Flood Zone A (at higher risk) overnight."

Homeowners weren't notified of the changes before FEMA approved the new flood-zone map this spring. They only learned of the new designation in notices from their mortgage lenders, Carnahan said.

"Now we feel like we've been put up against the wall in trying to find out what is going on, after all of the decisions have already been made."

Carnahan and her husband, Michael, paid $371 for the required annual flood insurance for their home, based on the amount of their mortgage loan. An elevation study that could prove that the flood-zone designation isn't warranted would cost between $700 and $800, plus an additional $400 to prepare the accompanying paperwork for FEMA, according to estimates that Carnahan received.

"And then you don't know what the results will be, or if FEMA would change the flood zone," she said.

Other homeowners in the neighborhood also have been required to buy special flood insurance. Homeowners whose mortgages are paid off are not required to buy the insurance, even if their properties are in the flood zone.

"This house is in the zone and has to have flood insurance. That house isn't in the zone and doesn't have to have it. That house is in the zone but doesn't need flood insurance because the mortgage is paid off," Carnahan said, pointing out a checkerboard pattern from her own to neighboring properties. "It makes no sense."

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Being "in the zone" in the quiet Girard neighborhood isn't a good thing, Carnahan said. Even homeowners not required to have flood insurance are concerned by the new flood-zone designation because it could discourage buyers if they decide to sell their homes, she said.

Homeowners have asked staff at FEMA's district office in Philadelphia for topographical information that could help them discover if their properties truly belong in the higher-risk flood zone or not, Carnahan said. She and others also plan to ask Girard Borough Council for help in fighting the Flood Zone A designation.

But there may not be anything that Girard Borough can do to help, borough Manager Rob Stubenbort said.

The state Department of Environmental Protection in recent years has permitted treated water to be discharged into the stream from the sewage plant at Imperial Point mobile home park, located upstream in neighboring Girard Township. And that's increased stream volume, Stubenbort said.

"It used to dry up completely in August, but now, because of an increase in rainfall in recent years and because of the sewage plant effluent going through there, the stream runs year around," Stubenbort said. "There actually is a pretty good amount of water coming through up there at times."

The borough once cleaned culverts along the stream to prevent water from backing up and overflowing, but environmental and conservation agencies have prohibited that in recent years, Stubenbort said. "If the stream was dry, then the borough would be allowed to go in and clean out the culverts," he said. "When it's running, we can't."

Neighborhood residents will continue to ask questions and do what they can do fight the new flood-zone designation, Carnahan said. "Our goal is to get this neighborhood remapped back to Zone X," she said.

Flood Zone A has a 1 percent annual chance of flooding. Zone X has very minimal chance of flooding, according to FEMA.

VALERIE MYERS can be reached at 878-1913 or by e-mail. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNmyers.

___

(c)2014 the Erie Times-News (Erie, Pa.)

Visit the Erie Times-News (Erie, Pa.) at www.GoErie.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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