Highland News Leader

Highland residents have wave of criticism for FEMA over flood plain maps

Highland residents poured into city hall last week to speak out against new working flood plain maps from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) which, in their present form, would encompass a larger part of the city than had been previously.

“I’m dismayed, bewildered, and shocked,” said Bill Corray, who lives in the Willow Creek subdivision.

Corray built his home in Highland in 1989. In the 27 years he’s lived there, Corray said his property has never even come close to flooding. However, Corray’s home is one of about 30 in Highland that now lies within an area FEMA’s working map predicts to be at high risk for high water.

FEMA is currently in the process of reassessing areas of potential flooding throughout Madison County, including Highland. It is a process the government goes through periodically to account for natural and man-made changes.

Weather data, changes in topographical information, new private development, new public development — such as new roads, bridges, or even new culverts — can all lead to map revisions.

Corray said there is no risk to his property.

“The worst I’ve seen was — one time — it rained four inches in an hour and a half. But even then, water was never even four feet from the top of the (creek) bank,”he said.

The maps, once officially adopted by FEMA, would be the final word on areas considered to be within risk of a 100-year flood event. A change in flood-risk status would mean homeowners and businesses with mortgages would be required to buy flood insurance at substantially increased rates, which may not be affordable for many. Undeveloped property within the designated flood plain would face many hurdles to alleviate flood risk before construction any could begin.

Highland city officials hosted a public hearing Aug. 23 on FEMA’s new working maps, which the agency has yet to make public, but city officials have. The city reached out to FEMA, but the agency declined to send a representative, according to Highland Assistant City Manager Lisa Peck.

Corray said he believes FEMA went “overboard” and that this whole process is “another intrusion from the bureaucratic process.”

“This will affect the future sale of the properties I own. I own four acres in Willow Creek, and this will be horrible for resale,” Corray said. “This was just poor communication and public relations on FEMA’s part. And it’s very alarming.”

Buddy Poettker said his own house, as well as two rental homes and two businesses he owns would also be encompassed in the flood plain marked on FEMA’s current working maps. He, too, said flooding has never been an issue.

“It’s never flooded like FEMA says it could. I own six parcels of land around town, many on Washington Street,” Poettker said. “I bought my properties 57 years ago, but if they were in a flood plain then, I wouldn’t have bought them.

“I’m going to get taxed pretty high, and I’m going to try to sell them before the flood plain maps become official,” he said. “But the big question now is: What will I get for them?”

Jerry Klostermann, who lives on Suppiger Lane, was also not impressed with FEMA’s approach.

“I think it’s typical of someone far away, sitting at a desk, going by old data. This is all wrong, and they should use up-to-date information and current technology,” he said. “I don’t approve of the way that they’ve approached this. They can’t even validate what the new lines are going to be. This is absolutely horrible.”

Other residents who attended the hearing also expressed their disappointment with FEMA and their frustration about the future.

“From what I heard, I’m not a happy camper. I don’t think anything is going to happen,” said one attendee who lives on Oak Street but wished to remain anonymous. “I just can’t believe FEMA didn’t show up. It was very disrespectful.”

Aviston Lumber is one of the businesses that is encompassed in the working map’s flood plain.

“According to all the stuff, people are going to have to get insurance, and then property value goes down. Some might say it’s not worth being here,” said Steve Prusa, who works at Aviston Lumber. “The way FEMA collects their info isn’t perfect. The topographic info they use is based on aerial photography, which changes with the seasons. A lot of the data is flawed.”

Mike Tebbe, who lives on Northview Drive, said he’s now in the flood plain, but isn’t sure why.

“Everyone else’s house would have to be underwater before it even got to my house. If FEMA wanted to come in, that’s fine, but they should have met with all of us,” Tebbe said. “Don’t tell us this is what you are going to do, then turn around and walk away.”

FEMA officials have said previously the process is still in its early stages and they will continue to work with city officials on gathering data. Then, at some point in the future, the agency will present a map on which the public can give its input. Final adoption of new flood maps could be a year or better in the future.

However, Tebbe believes the city and residents should have been given more information a long time ago.

“This is all wrong and is just another way they are going to get people to sign up for flood insurance,” he said. “With all the things going on down south, they (FEMA) are probably strapped for cash.”