County commission finds fault with new FEMA flood-plain map

Wednesday, December 16, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA  — A lot has changed in Boone County since 1983.

That was the gist of a Nov. 30 letter sent by the Boone County Commission to the Federal Emergency Management Agency over the creation of a Digital Flood Insurance Rate Map for Boone County.

The map is a part of FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program, a voluntary program in which communities can enroll. Participating communities receive financial aid on flood insurance but must adopt and enforce flood-plain management regulations established by FEMA. Creation of the map has been ongoing since 2005.

The letter stated that the county commission was informed the map contains topographic information from 1983. Since creeks have changed course and land has been leveled in the past 26 years, the letter stated, the map could be faulty if used today because areas that needed flood insurance back then might not need it now and vice versa.

In addition, the letter included a Freedom of Information Act request for copies of the contracts FEMA has with engineering firms hired to put the map together. Commissioners hope to determine the scope of those contracts. Southern District Commissioner Karen Miller said FEMA told her it will send the contracts to the county.

"This was a map modernization process, which means basically they digitized what they had, and because they knew it wasn't going to give communities what they really needed — updated mappings — they are starting a new process called Risk MAP," Miller said. "MAP is an acronym for mapping, assessment and planning."

According to FEMA's Web site, a Risk MAP brings together different data in order to best predict how susceptible an area is to flooding. Miller said FEMA representatives told her funding for a Risk MAP of the county isn't "totally nailed down," but it is a high priority because the tools are in place to create such a map.

Miller said there might have been a misunderstanding between FEMA and the county over the word "modernization."

"Modernization from our perspective was updating the data, modernization from, I think, their perspective was digitizing what they had," Miller said. "That's why I wanted to get the scope of the contract."

The letter also was sent to the State Emergency Management Agency and copied to U.S. Sens. Claire McCaskill and Kit Bond, Columbia Mayor Darwin Hindman, City Manager Bill Watkins and several local state representatives.

"At the state-level, with SEMA being involved, I thought our elected officials need to know that we're not happy and that we're frustrated with this process," Miller said.

Miller also said that she thinks FEMA now "understands what we're trying to get to" and that it also is sending a list of "mapping activities" to help the county understand the specifics of the contracts.

FEMA spokesman Joshua Deberge said a response letter was being drafted, and the county should get it soon. He said he couldn't comment on the issues raised by the county until it had received that letter.

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