Montana’s senior U. S. senator, Democrat Max Baucus, said the Federal Emergency Management Agency needs to use “common sense” while it reviews flood plain designations that include dikes and levees no longer certified by the U. S. agency that used to do so.
In 2008, FEMA began updating Flood Insurance Rate Maps with a new risk assessment methodology that excludes the consideration of any levee or flood control structure that is not certified, a release from Baucus said. At the same time, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers stopped providing certification for levees that are federally constructed but not federally operated.
Because most levees in Montana fall into this category, the cumulative effect of both policies left many Montana communities forced to either pay thousands of dollars to privately certify their levees or see drastic and inaccurate changes to their designations on the new flood maps.
Hill County Commission Chair Mike Wendland this morning applauded the pressure Baucus is applying.
The concern is very real in Havre — a dike system on the Milk River has prevented major flooding in the community since 1954.
The value of the dikes in the Havre area was proven in the last two years of flooding in the region.
“Like he said, use common sense, ” Wendland said.
Baucus said that is the key issue when FEMA revises Flood Insurance Rate Maps that affect property values, insurance premiums and requirements for purchasing flood insurance across Montana. The agency began the process of revising the current mapping system last year.
“It’s great news that FEMA is finally acknowledging the problem with these maps, and now we need to right this wrong as quickly as possible by using good, old-fashioned common sense, ” he said in the release. “Communities like Livingston are already out hundreds of thousands of dollars because of these flawed maps, and folks in places like Miles City can’t afford to wait any longer for this mistake to be corrected. So let’s take a look at the facts on the ground and employ some common sense to get the job done. ”
Miles City is newly designated as a “high-risk” zone under the updated maps, requiring homeowners to purchase flood insurance with high-cost premiums, the Baucus release says. The map of Miles City went from designating 15-20 percent of the city’s structures in the floodplain to more than 80 percent, because the new methodology completely ignored the existing dike along the Yellowstone and Tongue rivers.
When the town of Livingston was forced to pay $270,000 dollars to have a private engineering firm certify its flood wall, the results showed FEMA errors had misplaced the majority of the town within the flood plain, when in fact it was not.
In May 2011, the Vaughn Flood district of Great Falls, the West Great Falls flood district, the City of Great Falls and Cascade County signed a Provisionally Accredited Levee agreement with FEMA. Under the agreement, FEMA will consider both Great Falls area levees "certified" for the purposes of the new flood maps for two years. But Great Falls could face similar problems as Miles City if the maps are not revised before the agreements expire.