Aug. 15--Some Lake Isabella-area property owners may have to start buying flood insurance after a recent federal assessment preliminarily redrew maps of local areas considered to be at risk in the event of a once-in-a-100-years deluge.
Kern County officials confirmed updated maps provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency would reclassify what appear to be developed portions of Wofford Heights and Mountain Mesa as part of an expanded area where the threat of a flood is relatively high.
If the maps withstand public scrutiny in the months ahead, homeowners and others in the tentatively reclassified areas could be forced to pay annual flood-insurance premiums averaging about $1,000 per year, or significantly less -- even nothing -- if their properties are elevated.
Parts of Bakersfield along the Kern River also have been preliminarily reclassified by FEMA as being at higher risk of flood. But in part because nearby levees have tentatively been ruled capable of withstanding a deluge, the risk level is seen as lower -- an estimated once-in-500 years threat that would not trigger insurance requirements.
At this point it's unclear exactly what parts of Wofford Heights and Mountain Mesa would fall under the new risk classification. The maps are still being refined to show which individual properties fall within the highest risk level.
FEMA undertook the flood-risk survey as part of a routine federal assessment intended to guide the decision-making of local building officials, contractors and homebuyers.
An agency spokesman said new technology, combined with subsidence and other physical changes to local landscapes, periodically changes FEMA's understanding of which areas face the greatest risk of flood.
Spokesman Frank Mansell said people who feel their property has been misclassified will have opportunities in the months ahead to provide information challenging FEMA's preliminary flood-zone findings.
UP TO NATURE
He noted the federal maps are merely the government's best guess as to what areas might suffer damage in the event of a catastrophic flood. Actual floods may be milder or worse than expected.
"Mother Nature doesn't read our maps," he said.
Kern County and Bakersfield officials have been working with FEMA on the effort for more than a year. In Bakersfield, the process has involved making sure local levees are fully accredited as not only being strong enough to hold up against a major flood but also tall enough to provide a sufficient buffer against overflow.
City Building Director Phil Burns said he was unaware of any part of Bakersfield where FEMA's mapping update would place new areas in a 100-year flood zone. But some areas, including north of Golden State Avenue south of the Kern River near Chester Avenue, would be reclassified as being part of a 500-year flood zone.
That area would potentially be designated at higher risk of flooding if not for levee-integrity research the city contracted to Meyer Civil Engineering. The firm's owner, Richard Meyer, said he's in the process of helping certify local levees provide adequate protection.
"They're stable, they're strong, they're effective," he said.
Members of the public may present scientific information such as hydrological or hydraulic studies to appeal FEMA's mapping determinations during a 90-day period starting Monday.
The agency's maps can be found online at fema.gov/preliminaryfloodhazarddata.
If by Nov. 15 no technical challenges are filed, FEMA has 30 to 45 days to produce detailed maps. After that time a letter of final determination is issued, launching a six-month period of public meetings where members of the public will again have a chance to appeal the agency's findings.
Craig Pope, director of the county Public Works Department, said he suspects public review and comment on FEMA's findings will begin soon.
"I'm sure there will be some discussion over the next 90 days," he said.
Information on the flood zone deliberations is available at kernpublicworks.com/building-and-development/floodplain-management. Members of the public are also invited to contact the county at 661-862-5083 or 661-862-5071.
Additionally, the city of Bakersfield's Building Department, which is also involved in the flood zone project, can be reached at 661-326-3720 or 661-326-3607.
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