FEMA flood maps leave homeowners scrambling for coverage

Oct 20, 2008

Fort Meyers News-Press–October 20, 2008


New flood maps by the Federal Emergency Management Agency have pulled thousands of Lee County properties into flood zones, forcing owners to purchase flood insurance.

"You have the obligation to pay ‘x’ amount for insurance and it’s not something you wanted," said Bob Stewart, Lee County Floodplain Coordinator.

In late August, FEMA put into effect its newly drawn flood maps. It ended an updating program that took 10 years in Lee County, and replaced outdated 1984 maps. It’s part of a nationwide effort by FEMA to update its maps.

It means property once in a flood zone could now be out, and land once deemed safe from floods is now inside the zone.

About 195,000 parcels were in the flood area under the last maps. That number increased to about 204,000 under the new maps. There are about 600,000 parcels in Lee County.

Any property owner with a federally backed mortgage must buy flood insurance if the property is in a flood zone. That cost ranges from hundreds of dollars to more than $1,000 a year.

Darlene McClure has owned her home in San Carlos Park for about four years.

McClure said there’s a small creek about a block away. She said she was shocked to receive a letter from her bank last week saying she needs to purchase flood insurance. "We have never had any trouble with flooding or anything. I think it is ridiculous."

McClure hasn’t yet checked with insurance companies to see how much it will cost. "The economy is not that great, either. It is just one more thing we have to spend money on," she said.

So why would a person who wasn’t in a flood zone before -perhaps has never been flooded – suddenly have to pay for insurance?

New maps include interior rivers and creeks and more detailed modeling, said Joan LaGuardia, spokeswoman for Lee County’s community development department.

FEMA determines who is in danger of flooding based on a 100-year flood – or a flood that has a 1 percent chance of happening in any given year.

LaGuardia has been fielding about five calls a day for three weeks from property owners confused or angry about having to buy insurance.

"It’s tough times for people," LaGuardia said.

Property owners can apply to FEMA for a revision if they feel their property is above the flood level.

Karen Masciarelli said she purchased a home in Miromar Lakes in south Lee County in May 2007, when it was not listed in the flood zone.

"My survey says I am 2 feet above the mandated level," Masciarelli said in an e-mail.

She said she is going to pay the insurance rather than petition FEMA.

Allstate agent Cathy Sink said calls have been steady, and people are confused.

"People are upset that now they are going to have to pay more money," Sink said.

She said there are different rates and coverage for each property owner, depending on the situation.

"It’s hard whenever they call because insurance rates have been hard for people anyway, and now they find out they have to do something else," Sink said.

The updated maps haven’t been bad for everyone. Barbara Giery lives near the Lee County and Charlotte County line. She said she has always been listed in the flood zone and paid her flood insurance, which hovers around $350.

The new maps show she is no longer at risk, but she plans on keeping her insurance just in case.

"Flood insurance is not an expensive insurance. I feel it is one of the cheaper you can buy," Giery said.

Her home is a long way from any major body of water, but she doesn’t want to take any chance.

"God forbid there would be a flood," Giery said.