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Niagara County flood maps set for release

By:  Christian Peck

FEMA-DEC FLOOD MAPS SET FOR RELEASE PUBLIC “OPEN HOUSE” FORUMS SET FOR FEB. 2, 3

LOCKPORT-County residents will get a chance to have their say about new FEMA and New York state Department of Environmental Conservation-imposed flood insurance rate maps at two public forums set for Feb. 2 and 3.

The new digital maps, being released by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the DEC, affect a number of Niagara County properties and the rates charged for federal flood insurance.  They also reflect federal and state concerns about public safety in what the agencies believe constitute flood plains.

“Flood hazard maps, also known as flood insurance rate maps, are important tools in the effort to protect lives and properties,” Niagara County Legislator Pete Smolinski, R-North Tonawanda, chairman of the Legislature’s Community Safety and Security Committee, explained at the Niagara County Public Safety Training Facility Monday night.  “Over time, water flow and drainage patterns have changed dramatically due to surface erosion, land use, and natural forces.”

According to Smolinski, the maps provide critical tools to public safety planners, as well as engineers and developers.

“By showing the extent to which areas are at risk for flooding, the new flood maps will help home and business owners understand their own current flood risk, and make more informed decisions about protecting their property,” Smolinski said.  “These maps allow community planners, local officials, engineers, builders and others to make important determinations about where and how new structures and developments should be build to maximize safety.”

The lawmaker noted, though, that residents had a right to grieve the DEC and FEMA findings if they believed their properties were erroneously classified as in danger of flood damage.  Being in a flood zone carries a mandatory flood insurance requirement for all properties that have a mortgage with a federally regulated lender, or have a federally-backed mortgage, such as FHA or VA.

Smolinski said the public forums, which FEMA and the DEC are billing as “open houses,” provide residents an opportunity to make informed decisions about land purchases, but also provide residents opportunities to contest FEMA and DEC findings with regards to their land.  He recommended residents utilize online tools to understand the flood maps.

“FEMA has developed a website to help Niagara County property owners understand the change in flood hazard designations,” he said.

“Residents and property owners can type in their address to zoom in on a property of interest and view the flood risk at the property level.”

Smolinski said the website is located at http://rmc.mapmodteam.com/RMC2/Counties_Niagara.htm.

The Community Safety Committee chairman also noted that county emergency management officials would be dispatched to the forums to help answer residents’ questions and address their concerns about flood dangers and interacting with the state and federal agencies.

John Cecula, assistant director of emergency services, said he and James Volkosh, director of emergency management and fire coordinator, would be at both the Feb. 2 and 3 open houses.

“We’ll be attending both meetings, in case any residents have any questions regarding the flood plain maps,” Cecula said.  “But also, FEMA will be on hand to answer any questions.”

Cecula noted that the maps form a vital planning tool, but also acknowledged property owners who could, through FEMA and DEC reclassification of their properties see their insurance costs soar, should take the opportunity to question the state and federal officials.

In addition to being able to contest the findings, property owners whose land is likely to be reclassified as in a flood zone can take advantage of programs that allow them to “grandfather” their properties in under lower insurance rates.

“These maps will show properties in the flood plains, which will affect people having to purchase flood insurance,” Cecula said.  “If they wish to contest those flood maps, there will be representatives of FEMA at both meetings.”

The open house meetings will be held Feb. 2 from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Niagara County Public Safety Training Facility, 5574 Niagara St. Ext., Lockport, and Feb. 3 from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Wheatfield Community Center, 2790 Church Road, Wheatfield.

Individuals with additional questions about the flood insurance maps are encouraged to contact FEMA Region II at (212) 680-3624 or the DEC’s Floodplain Management Section at (518) 402-8151.

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