FEMA floodplain maps called into question


By Anjana Schroeder

FEMA floodplain maps are called into question. Photo: tomfoley (flickr)

After the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released floodplain maps, effective April 17, homeowners started receiving letters from their lenders giving them 45 days to buy additional insurance because they were in a flood zone.

Floodplain maps for Michigan counties were determined by FEMA, but officials in Gladwin and Crawford counties were concerned about the accuracy and impact of the maps.

Approximately 350 homes in Gladwin alone were placed in a newly created flood zone, U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, told FEMA in a letter requesting that Gladwin County have until Oct. 31 to draw new maps.

State Rep. Joel Johnson, R-Clare, contacted the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) about remapping Gladwin’s floodplain.

And U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, and Johnson helped get extra time from FEMA for remapping in Gladwin.

According to Johnson, Gladwin County officials “launched an effort to prepare and submit alternative maps that were based on 1-or-2-foot contour intervals.” FEMA used 10-foot intervals, creating much larger floodplain areas.

Remapping floodplain zones is not always the easiest option, said Grayling Township Supervisor Rick Harland. He said Grayling won’t remap because it would be too expensive.

Crawford County’s geographic information systems technician, Gaye Pizzi, obtained the floodplain map from FEMA, so when Crawford County residents ask if they are in a flood zone, she is able to give them an accurate answer.

Some residents have then hired surveyors and, in none of those cases did the surveyors find the properties to be in a flood zone, Pizzi said.

“Whatever company came to map the floodplains must have never set foot in Crawford County,” she said.

“What was unfortunate was that a base flood elevation was never set for Crawford County and FEMA didn’t set one either,” Pizzi said. Banks send letters to homeowners in flood zones and give them 45 days to get insurance, she said.

And anything attached to a house is considered in the flood zone. “Someone could have stairs leading out to the water, or a deck that falls in the flood zone.”

Grayling Charter Township Supervisor Rick Harland said he can personally relate.

“My property shows I’m in the floodplain but my house is not.” He is hiring surveyors to determine the maps accuracy.

Lovells Township Supervisor Gary Neumann said about a dozen parcels have been determined to be in the flood zone in his township. “Out of a dozen, half of the structures were clearly not in the flood zone.”

It is the property owners’ responsibility to either obtain insurance or hire a surveyor if they wish to determine if their homes were accurately placed in a flood zone.

3 thoughts on “FEMA floodplain maps called into question

  1. My parents home is in Gladwin County, on the cedar river and just got flooded becuase of ice jams. Their insurance company has to this point {since they purchased the house and propety}, refused to sell them flood insurance, saying that they are not in a flood zone. Does anybody know if this is legal for them to refuse to sell a policy holder flood insurance and can they be sued for damages?

  2. Does FEMA really know what they are doing? Over a year ago a gentleman in, I believe California, was notified by his insurance company that his rates would increase because he was in a floodplain area.

    I took him over a year to prove he wasn’t and last heard had not gotten a refund from the insurance company.

    Easy to label-hard to prove otherwise.

  3. Actually, only the Crawford County maps are published and effective. As I understand it, Gladwin County and FEMA are working to make improvements based on preliminary maps.

    Floodplain maps are being updated by FEMA throughout Michigan and throughout the country. The mapping efforts began in 2003.

    The “Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act of 2012,” which was signed into law in July, helps to address technical standards and review for FEMA’s continued mapping efforts. For more information, I would highly recommend the Association of State Floodplain Managers or the Michigan Stormwater Floodplain Association.

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