Highland News Leader

A proposed FEMA flood map in Highland could cost business owners thousands

Here’s what Highland is doing to prevent 100 acres of land from flood zone designations

The full scope of a project aimed to prevent roughly 200 Highland properties from being included in a flood map that could triple their insurance costs was presented to the city council this week.
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The full scope of a project aimed to prevent roughly 200 Highland properties from being included in a flood map that could triple their insurance costs was presented to the city council this week.

A plan to fix a problematic culvert and amend a proposed flood map will save businesses in the area thousands in insurance money, city officials say.

A Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, flood map proposed in 2009 increased Highland’s flood zones by almost 103 acres. If the maps go into effect, business and homeowners could see insurance rates triple, according to the city.

City Manager Mark Latham said plans to lower the proposed flood zone will give business owners a sigh of relief. The project, which the City Council is set to vote on in the near future, will replace a 100-year-old culvert that is restricting flows downstream and creating a larger flood map.

The proposed flood map tripled the 1986 floodplain, increasing the number of “high-risk” parcels from 135 to 365 and showed flood elevation upstream of the CSX railroad of about 6 and a half feet, adding roughly 100 acres to the floodplain. The proposed flood zone would have a total of 146 acres. The city’s proposed map includes a total of 75 acres.

The parcels of land that could be affected stretch throughout the city, starting from Troxler Avenue and running south toward Highway 40, in some cases even covering the highway. Also affected would be a large number of parcels north and northwest of the CSX Railroad also could be affected.

Rural King Supply owner George Jones said his business, that’s located within the FEMA’s 2009 proposed flood zone would be largely impacted if it weren’t for the city’s efforts.

“It would have had a huge impact,” Jones said. “Insurance is bad enough now.

FEMA’s flood map shows almost 60 percent of Jones’ business in the flood zone. In the city’s proposed flood zone, which shrinks the acreage down to 75, the business sits well off the edge of the zone.

highland flood plain map.PNG
A newly proposed flood map from Oates Associates, the firm hired by the city of Highland to solve a flood zone designation that could triple insurance rates for some property owners. The map depicts a correction in water flow rates and what the flood zone would look like after a problematic culvert is replaced. Representatives from the firm said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has agreed to the map’s findings. Provided

He said when the flood maps came out, all he could do was wait and hope the map changed in his company’s favor. He said he hopes the city gets the fix in place.

“When it first happened, we didn’t’ first know how it was going to play out,” he said. “There’s not a lot you can do about it, so you just hope it goes away. “

The full scope of a project aimed to prevent roughly 200 Highland properties from being included in a flood map was presented to the City Council earlier this month.

FEMA periodically updates its flood maps to take into account new developments, changes in topography, etc., and how those changes may put surrounding areas at a greater risk for flooding. Highland officials began studying potential problem areas on the 2009 preliminary flood maps FEMA released to replace the last maps created in 1986.

Several other businesses find themselves in, or in some cases surrounded, by the flood zone in FEMA’s proposed map. Businesses like First Mid Bank & Trust, Steve Schmidt Chevrolet Buick GMC dealership and Hardee’s would be completely in the flood zone, while others like CVS and Walgreens would be surrounded.

Those businesses may be at risk for possible flooding, but more realistically would face higher flood insurance rates , which Latham said could be a tripling of their rates.

Latham said ensuring businesses and residents aren’t met with the burden of nearly tripled insurance rates is a big drive for the city to get the project completed. He said it’s one of the city’s highest priorities.

“There were some major economic players in that (flood) area, which now will be gone when the culvert is in place,” Latham said.

Two major factors shaped FEMA’s decision on the flood maps: a culvert that was cutting off water flow downstream and a discrepancy with the flow rate of water heading toward the affected areas, according to Oates Associates, a city-hired firm that studied the issue.

The 100-year-old culvert, a drain that allows water to flow under the CSX Railroad, was altered at some point, reducing the volume of water by half that can pass through it.

A box culvert underneath the CSX Railroad tracks near the Poplar Street train crossing in Highland. The culvert needs to be removed and replaced to help lower the new Special Flood Hazard Area outlined by the Federal Emergency Management agency. Megan Braa mbraa@bnd.com

If the culvert, located at the train crossing at Poplar Street near U.S. 40, is replaced, approximately 200 parcels of land would avoid being inside of the flood zone.

The firm created a new flood map factoring the corrected flow rate with a new culvert. That preliminary map, which Oates said FEMA has agreed to, significantly cuts the acreage that will be added to the flood zones from 103 to 31.

It’s unclear when FEMA will do another study, but Oates Associates officials said late 2019 is a likely time frame. Latham said for that reason, it’s imperative work gets started on replacing the culvert soon.

The plan chosen by CSX Railroad to fix a culvert underneath its tracks near the train crossing on Poplar Street in Highland. This was designed by Oates Associates, Inc. an engineering firm the city hired to assess the city’s flood risk as compared with the current assessment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Once construction is finished, City Manager Mark Latham said the city’s Special Flood Hazard Area should be lowered back to its original height. Provided by Oates Associates, Inc.

Kavahn Mansouri covers government accountability for the Belleville News-Democrat, holding officials and institutions accountable and tracking how taxpayer money is spent.
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