City staff saves serious cash for local property owners with Floodplain Map revision

COTTAGE GROVE, Ore. - In a David vs. Goliath-like scenario, City Planner Eric Mongan was highly praised at the August 28 City Council meeting for his determined effort to challenge the preliminary Central Lane County flood map created by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The proposed map identified 710 structures within the City of Cottage Grove that would be included in the floodplain and protected by a mandated flood insurance policy. In contrast, the current FEMA map only identifies 76 structures.

Realizing the huge increase in the number of properties included in FEMA’s computer model, Mongan decided to do some research to appeal to the accuracy of the proposed map.

Planning and Development staff did a deep dive into data and historical photos for the last 100 years of where flooding occurred, before and after the dams were built. He also asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to submit its data showing most of the water downstream from the dams would remain within the river channels.

The last flooding event was in 1996-97 where there was some limited flooding. FEMA considered it to be a 100-year flood event and staff included information detailing how it actually affected the community.

The preliminary updated maps were published 18 months ago for public review. City staff held an open house and invited impacted property owners to learn more about the process and potential appeal. On April 19, the City filed its appeal.

On June 8, FEMA acknowledged receipt of the appeal and said it would evaluate the data and issues raised. If warranted, the federal agency would revise the preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Map and its Flood Insurance Study report. The City would receive copies of the revised map for review.

FEMA staff would not issue a letter of final determination and would delay the process until the matter was resolved.

Floods are unpredictable and occur naturally almost anywhere under the right conditions. Flood risk continually changes, and flood maps are one tool communities use to know which areas have the highest risk of flooding and can use these maps for long-range planning to guide and protect future development.

A flood map shows how likely an area is to flood. There is no such thing as a “no-risk zone”, but some areas have a lower or moderate risk.

Updates to flood maps are a collaboration between local governments and FEMA.

Every community that participates in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) has a floodplain administrator (Mongan) who works with FEMA during the mapping process. FEMA provides the technology and relies on community leaders to share local knowledge and plans to make the maps as accurate as possible.

The map update process involves FEMA staff and the floodplain administrator working with local engineers and surveyors to collect data. Community members provide information to help local officials better understand how water drains in their area.

FEMA then works with local experts and combines the data into a computer model that is used to create the updated flood map. The preliminary flood maps are then available for review. Cities, counties, and impacted property owners have 90 days to submit technical data to support an appeal to the map’s findings.

According to the FEMA website, Congress established the NFIP on Aug. 1, 1968, and modifies it as needed. FEMA manages the program that enables property owners and renters, in participating communities, to purchase insurance against flood losses in exchange for those communities adopting and enforcing regulations to reduce flood damage.

In the Community Rating System, the City of Cottage Grove maintains a Class 16 standing, which allows people who carry a flood insurance policy to get a 20-percent premium reduction. analyzed data released by FEMA last spring and determined current flood insurance premiums average $939 per year or $78 per month. Rates can be higher based on a property’s location and elevation.

Mongan participated in a Zoom meeting last month with FEMA staff and consultants to discuss what the next steps will be. They said between the city’s comments and the new data supplied by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a new preliminary map will be ready for review in about 18 months and followed by a 30-day comment period.

“I’m pretty optimistic the new data will benefit city residents,” Mongan told the council. “The proposed 710 structures that would’ve been added to the floodplain and required to carry flood insurance will now be a significantly smaller number on the modified map. This is really good for our community.”

The Central Lane Floodplain Maps include Cottage Grove, Creswell, Eugene, Springfield, and unincorporated Lane County. He said the City of Creswell contracts with him to manage its floodplain.

He added, “I’m pretty hopeful to get a preliminary draft of the updated map in the next four-to-six months to get a good idea of what we can expect. This will allow our development staff to start working on the other long-range planning projects we want to do.”

Public Works & Development Director Faye Stewart said he was pleased with the outcome of the appeal.

“I’m glad we took the time to ferret out our concerns of why we didn’t think the map was accurate,” Stewart told the Council. “Eric’s thought process, who he engaged in the appeal and his diligence resulted in FEMA’s reconsideration.”

The Mayor and Council members congratulated Mongan on his hard work and determination that resulted in a FEMA response that is rarely done.

Councilor Alex Dreher noted FEMA reconsidering the redrawing of its map was major news.

“It will save our residents a lot of money and they will never know you did this,” Dreher told him. “Knowing the intricacies of the system, this is a good example of how you can really effectively advocate. It is very rare for FEMA to actually reconsider a map. Thank you for your advocacy and diligence.”

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