Feds speed up map changes

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will seek quicker revisions to Cape Girardeau flood-plain maps, a move city officials say could eliminate the requirement of costly flood insurance for businesses and residents in the area along Cape LaCroix Creek and Walker Branch by mid-April.

As recently as a few weeks ago, FEMA said it could take another two years before the flood-plain maps would be changed. That would mean businesses and homeowners would continue to pay costly flood insurance as a condition for a bank loan even though city officials in April celebrated completion of a $40 million, 11-year flood-control project that was funded largely by the federal government.

Mayor Jay Knudtson and others on the city council criticized the bureaucratic delay.

But FEMA has now changed its mind at the urging of U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, whose staff talked to agency officials on Sept. 13.

"I am absolutely thrilled at the response we have received," Knudtson said Monday.

Emerson said she is pleased with FEMA's decision to speed up the regulatory process. "It is important to a lot of residents that accurate, up-to-date information is on the maps that determine their insurance costs," she said.

Richard Hainje, FEMA's regional director in Kansas City, wrote in a Sept. 20 letter to Emerson that flood-plain map revisions will be made "as soon as practicable" to reflect reduced flood risks.

Hainje said FEMA, reversing its earlier plans, won't wait on the development of digital flood-plain maps for all of Cape Girardeau County before issuing revised versions.

But FEMA officials said the agency is still awaiting some additional technical information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before any maps can be revised. The Corps of Engineers was in charge of the flood-control project, which included construction of a dry detention basin to help hold back storm water during heavy rains.

Bill Vaughn, development services coordinator for the city of Cape Girardeau, said preliminary map revisions could be issued in February. FEMA then requires a 90-day appeals process to allow the public a chance to comment on the revised flood-plain maps.

Vaughn said the revised maps could be permanently in place by mid-April, the first changes in the flood-plain maps in 24 years.

Hainje said in his letter that those property owners who are paying flood insurance could qualify for refunds for some past insurance premium expenses once the new maps are approved.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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