Jul. 13--Flooding maps in Walla Walla and Columbia counties are not currently being adjusted in a manner that would impact insurance requirements, authorities said recently.
In light of the heavy flooding in February that inundated Northeast Oregon and Southeast Washington, speculation has swelled about potential for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to change insurance requirements for certain properties.
Scott Van Hoff, the flood insurance liaison for FEMA Region 10 in Seattle, said if anything was being done right now, the public would already know about it.
"Nothing can come out in a surprise or unexpected manner that doesn't involve a lot of public notice," Van Hoff said.
Van Hoff read a note from one of the engineers that works with FEMA that said there are "no current efforts in Walla Walla or Columbia County, which were the hardest hit by this year's floods."
They did note that some preliminary mapping efforts were happening in Baker County, Oregon.
Property owners should not be in fear of a sudden change to flood boundaries or a new flood-insurance rate map.
The flood boundaries and flood-insurance rate maps can be changed through FEMA's "letter of map revision" process, which involves flooding that was greatly different than expected based on best-available maps, according to FEMA's web page regarding revisions.
"These are usually done when you have a flood event that was very different from what was predicted on the map," Van Hoff said.
In such a case, it would involve a levee breaking or a channel of water being significantly altered, he said.
"Under those circumstances, an expedited study can be done," Van Hoff said. "Often that involves a contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or somebody like that to conduct that study."
The revision can be requested by private property owners or by local government officials such as those in counties and cities, in addition to a FEMA request. It's the fastest type of flood-map revision that would result in changed insurance rates and requirements.
However, those revisions are still relatively slow and are never done in secret.
"Then they can put out a smaller scale map -- not necessarily county-wide -- much faster," Van Hoff said. "And by fast, I mean a year and half or two years instead of five years."
Regular flood-map updates are done about every 10 to 20 years, he said. If Walla Walla County needed a new map, for example, it would be done in collaboration with local governments and would involve "many meetings" and "lots of input" from the community.
Joe Saxon, public affairs officer for the Walla Walla District of the Army Corps, said he was unaware of any current studies that might affect flood maps that would change anything for insurance.
Saxon said there was a hydrology study done recently in connection with the Mill Creek General Investigative Study that involved the changing of what's called a "flood inundation map."
"However these have nothing to do with FEMA or flood insurance rate studies," Saxon said.
"To my knowledge, we are not currently involved in any of the modeling or mapping work for FEMA on any local streams."
The most recent example of FEMA changing a flood map in reaction to a flood was in southern Idaho when the Big Wood River flooded in 2017. Those "limited" studies are still going on, Van Hoff said.
The city of Milton-Freewater was affected in 2010 when FEMA redid maps as part of a greater process of making its maps digital. That process overlapped with an Army Corps study that decertified the city's levee system and resulted in insurance requirements changing for many city residents.
Jedidiah Maynes can be reached at [email protected] or 509-526-8318.
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