FEMA pressed to redo flood plain maps in NY
By Denise Jewell Gee and Thomas J. Prohaska
WHEATFIELD, NY — Sen. Charles E. Schumer urged the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Monday to take a new look at flood plain maps that would add 387 new properties in Wheatfield to flood hazard zones.
Meanwhile, Town of Lockport officials urged homeowners affected by the maps to contact Town Hall, if they haven't already, so their properties can be surveyed in an effort to overturn FEMA's measurements.
In a letter to FEMA's acting administrator Nancy L. Ward, Schumer asked the agency to work with Wheatfield officials to apply data from a town-funded engineering study to the 387 properties "with the goal of removing the maximum number of homes now improperly classified in a way that requires purchase of expensive flood insurance."
"We must take every precaution to ensure the new flood maps are a precise representation of the flood zones so property owners are not saddled with a costly and unnecessary flood insurance bill," the New York Democrat wrote in the letter to FEMA.
Schumer's office released the letter to the public Monday.
FEMA released preliminary flood plain maps in September that placed hundreds of new properties in Wheatfield and other areas of Niagara County in flood hazard areas.
The Town of Lockport sent out 150 letters to potentially affected property owners, Deputy Supervisor Mark C. Crocker said.
Properties in high-risk zones with mortgages are required to carry additional flood insurance that Wheatfield officials believe could cost property owners $800 to $1,100 a year.
The preliminary flood plain maps initially included 920 privately owned Wheatfield properties in flood hazard zones, but FEMA removed more than half of those in new maps released last month after the town challenged its findings.
"Our data and information were far more accurate than even FEMA's was for our town," said Wheatfield Supervisor Timothy E. Demler.
Demler said the town plans to continue its challenge and hopes to get as many of the 387 additional properties removed from the new flood hazard areas as possible.
The town will also review properties in the Bergholz area and near River and Shawnee roads that have been listed in flood zones for years, Demler said.
The Town Board last month approved spending $12,000 for additional engineering work to examine the new flood plain maps and determine whether they are accurate.
Demler said he has been told that Rep. Chris Lee, R-Clarence, also plans to write to FEMA.
The Wheatfield supervisor hopes the letters will "add strength" to the town's efforts. He said town officials plan to meet with FEMA representatives within three weeks with the help of State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane.
As for Lockport, Crocker said no more than 20 percent of those who were sent letters have responded. "We're three weeks into a 90-day period to lodge a protest or an appeal," he said.
Wendel Duchscherer Architects & Engineers, which also has a contract with Lockport, is doing its own surveys to challenge FEMA's figures, which were done from low-flying planes using laser-guided technology.
Lockport Supervisor Marc R. Smith said elevations will be taken on all four corners of each affected building to try to show the structure is above flood level.
"We're doing the best we can to contact everybody," Crocker said, adding that affected property owners should call him at 478-0609.
For those who need to check out their individual situations, the town has posted the flood maps on its own Web site, www.elockport.com. They can be found by clicking on "Maps & Information" in the drop-down menu under "Town."