New flood maps pushed back

Published 3:49 pm Friday, June 1, 2007

Technical difficulties have pushed back the tentative date for the release of the three Mississippi coastal county Digital Flood Insurance Rate Maps but officials promise that a quality product will be released upon completion.

While Pearl River County has already presented its DFIRM for public comment, Harrison, Jackson and Hancock counties are still waiting on theirs. The maps originally were scheduled to be available for public comment by the summer of 2006, however technical difficulties have pushed the team’s completion date back to — tentatively — late fall of 2007, said Greg Coulson National Flood Insurance Program Group supervisor.

Map modernization began in 2004 but was pushed back due to Hurricane Katrina, said Steve Chaplain, Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality program manager.

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Pearl River County decided not to cooperate with the state to produce new maps and had its map done by a different team, Coulson said. Even though a separate team worked on Pearl River County’s maps, there still should basically be consistency between the counties, he said.

One reason Rob Lowe, a Federal Emergency Management Agency region four flood expert, gave for the delay included the team working to provide state boundary line consistency to minimize variances. Lowe said he expects to still have variances between Mississippi and Alabama, but not between Mississippi and Louisiana.

Currently, the three coastal counties are using the Advisory Base Flood Elevations, based off of 1983 flood plain information, to provide insurance rates. Insurance zones should be locked in from that previous information, if residents build and get insurance before the new maps come out. That grandfathered insurance rate zone will stay in effect unless 50 percent or more flood damage occurs, or a 50 percent or more improvement is conducted on the home, Coulson said.

No matter the flood zoning of a home, homeowners should have a flood insurance policy.

“One thing that is guaranteed, mother nature does not read a map,” Coulson said.

While a flood zone would be locked in, grandfathered rates are still subject to change in that zone.

The team expects to produce quality DFIRMs based on information gathered from all hurricanes from 1944 to present, when hurricane hunters began to fly. Those storms will include Hurricanes Camille, Betsy and Katrina, Lowe said.

“This is again a leap in technology that we’re very, very proud of,” Lowe said. “What’s important is the degree of accuracy that we captured Katrina on. We have a 95 percent plus confidence level that we got it right.”

Once the maps are done, they will be presented to county officials and the public for comment and review, at the latest by winter 2008. Then the preliminary data will be posted on the MDEQ website.

A coastal mapping call center will open beginning Monday for the public to get information or referrals for general and technical questions. That number is 1-866-816-2804 and can be called Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., according to a press release from FEMA.