FEMA Is Raising the River Again

If you own property along the 100 mile stretch of the Susquehanna River main stem/north branch in Pennsylvania between the Snyder County/Juniata County line and the Kingston / Swoyersville area, brace yourself for dramatic revisions to the base flood elevation, or the 100-year flood elevation, to be published in 2018 by FEMA.

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) was created in 1968.  Hurricane Agnes struck our Central Susquehanna River Valley Region in June 1972 and devastated everything in its path.  Original Flood Insurance Studies were published for our region in the mid-1970’s.  The studies were comprehensive, but the mapping associated with the studies that showed floodplain boundaries were quite often difficult to read.  Nevertheless, professional surveyors, insurance agents, realtors, and banks gained familiarity with the studies, and how to use them to determine whether or not a building was located within the floodplain.  These studies were used for 35 years.high water on the Susquehanna

In 2007, new Flood Insurance Studies were published for our region.  The new studies were based on a detailed HEC-RAS hydraulic model prepared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in 2003.  The mapping in the new studies was much improved, and accessible by computer.  A user of the new studies is able to “zoom-in” on the mapping to see better the location of a floodplain boundary with respect to a given structure.

The analysis in the 2007 Studies accounted for 40 years of development throughout the watershed, and the additional data provided from 40 more years of flooding records.  The 2007 studies showed increases to the 100-year flood elevation throughout the region.  As a result, properties that were never in the floodplain before were now in the floodplain, and properties previously identified as being in the floodplain were shown to be deeper in floodwaters during a 100-year storm event.

From December 2007 through June 2009 we suffered through the Great Recession, the sale of properties slowed down, and although the Recession officially ended in 2009, the volume of property sales in our region remained sluggish through 2013.  The impact of the Recession on new Flood Insurance Studies published in 2007 was that surveyors, insurance agents, realtors, and bankers did not have much opportunity to work with the new studies until 2014.

While we were navigating our way out of the Great Recession, on September 4-8, 2011, Tropical Storm Lee dropped record-breaking rain on the region, producing widespread flooding.  In response to this event, FEMA tasked the USACE to conduct a basin flood data assessment and update the 2003 analysis to reflect hydrologic and hydraulic changes that have occurred since the 2007 Studies.

The peak flow for this study is based on statistical analysis of past events at river gaging stations.  The analysis included flow records up to and including Tropical Storm Lee.  The analysis established that peak flow estimates have increased for the Susquehanna River.  In the 100 mile study area of the river, base flood elevations increase by up to 4.8 feet.  FEMA feels that such significant increases in flood risk needs to be communicated to residents / property owners.

Until the 2007 Flood Insurance Studies are officially revised again, which is estimated to be 2018, FEMA is providing citizens online access to the post-Lee study as “best available data” to use when considering raising a property above flood elevations, constructing something new in the floodplain, or considering the future cost of flood insurance on a property.  The information is not regulatory at this time, but FEMA has indicated that it will be when Flood Insurance Studies are published again.  The map is available on the FEMA GeoPlatform by going to http://fema.maps.arcgis.com/home/ and entering “Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania” in the search box in the upper right corner.  FEMA has strongly suggested that the advisory information in the Tropical Storm Lee study be formally adopted and utilized for permitting and mitigation planning.

Additionally, the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 (BW-12) was passed on July 6, 2012, taking effect October 2013.  Eliminating subsidies for flood insurance premiums sent Flood Insurance policy premiums sky high, and made many properties in the floodplain unaffordable, even for existing property owners.

Throughout our 100 mile reach of the Susquehanna River, this perfect storm of trying to get up to speed on the 2007 Flood Insurance Studies that were rarely used for five years during  the recession and its aftermath, trying to understand the impact and requirements of BW-12 and it’s attempted fix, the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014, and trying to navigate the impact of FEMA’s “best available mapping” which raises base flood elevations beyond those of the 2007 Flood Insurance Studies has professionals and property owners reeling.

If you own property in the 100 year floodplain, you will need an elevation certificate completed for your property.  We have been completing elevation certificates for property owners in the Central Susquehanna Valley since Flood Insurance Rate Mapping was created in the 1970’s.  We have committed to prioritizing the completion of all elevation certificate requests we receive.  We will complete them in two weeks or less.

If you need assistance navigating the aforementioned Studies and Laws and their impact on your property in the floodplain, or if you need to have an elevation certificate completed for your property, just contact us, and one of our professionals will gladly walk you through the process and review our fee schedule with you.  Good Luck.

About Art Thomas

Art was born and raised in Northumberland, PA. He is a proud 1982 graduate of Shikellamy High School, and a proud 1986 graduate of The Pennsylvania State University where he spent 4 ½ years at the University Park main campus in State College, PA and graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Civil Engineering.

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