The Valley Stream village board’s decision to adopt a new flood map on July 15 was the right move, but this hardly ends the three-year-long battle for a more accurate map.
There are three good reasons why the village board needed to adopt the map.
First, Valley Stream’s residents and government have been lobbying for a more accurate map to ensure that homes are removed from the high-risk flood zone that don’t belong there. The Federal Emergency Management Agency decided that 1,549 homes in the village don’t belong on the latest map.
Second, if it failed to approve the map, the village would jeopardize its ability to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program. Property owners would not be able to purchase flood insurance policies and existing policies would not be renewed, according to FEMA. The village and property owners would also risk losing out on federal disaster assistance.
As we learned during and after Hurricane Sandy, there are areas of Valley Stream that flood. Dozens of homes were damaged by the storm’s floodwaters, and those residents were fortunate to have flood insurance. They need to be protected.
And finally, FEMA and other federal officials listened to the outcry in Valley Stream following the adoption of a new map in 2009, which added almost 2,500 homes to the high-risk flood zone. That’s largely the reason why a new map was drawn less than four years later, revising the flood zone. Rejecting these FEMA maps — taking an all-or-nothing-now approach — would reduce the village’s leverage going forward.
So the village’s approval was necessary and right.
But the issue can’t end here. The new map should be thought of as progress, not as a conclusion. More than 800 homes added to the high-risk flood zone in 2009 still remain in it. Some of those homes probably belong there, but many others likely do not.
By their very nature, flood maps are inexact because they are based on a calculation of risk. It is impossible to predict future storms, and every storm behaves differently. There will always be some educated guesswork and reasonable assumptions involved in creating a map like this, but a combination of cutting-edge science and historical data must be used.
We believe that FEMA did a better job the second time around, but parts of the new map still miss the mark. Hurricane Sandy showed the areas of Valley Stream that are vulnerable to coastal flooding — exactly what flood insurance protects against. And it showed that there are some areas that have no business being in the high-risk flood zone.
Village officials promised at the July 15 meeting that adopting the new map would not mean an end to the fight, and that they would continue lobbying the federal representatives and agencies that can effect change. They must make good on this promise.
The argument made by some residents that the new map can never be changed is wrong. This map is a changed map, and future maps can be as well.
We continue to call for more constructive cooperation between the community activists focused on this issue and the village government. It has been frustrating to see these two factions sniping at each other, despite the fact that they are working toward the same goal.
Both groups have brought good ideas to the table, yet they seem to prefer to work independently to solve the problem. Residents share personal experiences about the financial burden of having to purchase unnecessary flood insurance. The village government has relationships with the federal officials who can bring about change. Both sides should realize that we’re all on the same side.
Instead of publicly trading barbs, how about a meeting of the minds? If community activists and village officials could sit down, talk and learn from one another, we believe everyone could end up on the same page. Moving forward as one united coalition is a lot more likely to get Valley Stream the attention it needs for the changes that still need to be made.