New flood maps use lower river level to assess risk in Cape Girardeau County

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The latest flood maps for Cape Girardeau County show a lower water level could become the new standard for rating risk along the Mississippi River.

On the maps currently in use, every building that could be reached by water when the Cape Girardeau river gauge reaches 51.35 feet is considered in a high-risk area for flooding. Using the preliminary maps presented at a meeting Tuesday hosted by the State Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, homes and businesses that would be reached by a reading of 47.35 feet on the gauge -- more than 1 foot lower than the record stage recorded in August 1993 -- would be considered high risk and require the most expensive flood insurance premiums.

As part of a national initiative, FEMA is reviewing and redrawing maps showing flood-prone and flood-protected areas in every county. The maps update flood-plain estimates, some 20 years old, some more than 50 years old, with more precise elevation measurements and new data on peak stream flows that result in big floods, said Dale Schmutzler, flood-plain management chief for SEMA.

The meeting, held in the County Administration Building, brought together mortgage lenders, bankers, local officials and property owners. Tom Schulte, district director for U.S. Sen. Kit Bond and owner of property near Hubble Creek outside Gordonville, checked the map closely to see if his home was now considered at risk.

While his house is still outside the mapped flood plain, Schulte said floods along Hubble Creek are becoming more frequent and going higher than in the past. He attributes the change to more runoff from developed areas in Jackson and Fruitland.

A storm-water ordinance to reduce runoff from future development may be needed in the county, Schulte said. "You have got to look at your growth. You have got to look at all of these areas to see how the water is being managed," he said.

Digital format

The maps are also being put into digital format for the first time, allowing comparisons with other computerized mapping systems to show whether new developments are in or outside of the risky areas, Schmutzler said.

The maps dictate the cost of flood insurance premiums, assigning the highest costs to the riskiest properties. Flood insurance is available only through the National Flood Insurance Program overseen by FEMA. After a comment and appeal period, the maps will undergo final revisions, said Connie Wisniewski of FEMA. She expects the Cape Girardeau County map will become official sometime in 2010.

Federal regulations direct mortgage lenders to require flood insurance in order to make home loans on property subject to flooding. Although the changes will remove some property from the highest risk category, lenders must use the current map until the new maps are in effect, she said.

"The effective date is the critical element for bankers and lenders," Schmutzler added.

Other changes to the estimated risk outside the Mississippi River floodplain will be harder to determine because FEMA has not done overlay maps comparing the new and old flood-plain limits. Officials will look closely at the maps and, because they are now in digital format, the county can merge the information with its maps, said Roger Arnzen, head of the mapping and appraisal division of the county assessor's office.

"Once we get it online, we will be able to monitor it a little more closely," Arnzen said.

rkeller@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent addresses:

1 Barton Square, Jackson, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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