The Federal Emergency Management Agency, love it or hate it, produced new flood maps late last year and asked the village to adopt them into law in order to stay in the National Flood Insurance Program. The controversial 2009 flood maps would now be a thing of the past with the village’s approval.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation also asked us to do likewise in its position as the state coordinating agency for NFIP. The DEC’s chief flood plain manager, William Nechamen, urged us to adopt this measure before the July 16 deadline to keep the village from falling out of eligibility for many useful and needed federal programs.
The adoption process was long and arduous. The village took great pains to hear all sides of the issue, culminating in its July 15 vote to adopt the maps. In the end, this is the only choice the village had in order to allow all of our parcels to be eligible for many of the federal loan programs and less costly zoning-code parameters.
Through the diligence of Mayor Fare, the Board of Trustees and village personnel, Valley Stream was able to work with FEMA to reduce the number of village residents who pay exorbitant flood zone insurance rates from 2,404 to 855. This is a drop of 1,549 village properties no longer in the high-risk flood zone, eligible for refunds and exempt from paying high insurance premiums.
But this is not the end; it is only the beginning of the process. We will continue the fight to help as many of those 855 residents and businesses that are still in the flood zone as we possibly can.
We have already contacted our United States senators and members of Congress about people not having access to the preferred insurance rate of about $400 annually. These property owners are paying thousands of dollars for flood insurance each year.
There has been much clamor over the years about FEMA and its role in the creation of allegedly bogus 2009 flood maps. It appeared to some as though FEMA took the Suffolk County flood maps and simply laid them over a map of Nassau, erroneously determining who was in or out of the flood zone.
After careful review, FEMA appears to have done a much better job with the new flood maps. The science is more precise and the weather patterns, tides and wind effects are better understood.
Remember, after Hurricane Sandy, FEMA was sent to Valley Stream in helicopters to inspect potential problem areas where it felt that flooding was a risk.
We have to understand that FEMA looks at risk, not necessarily result. For example, you buy a fast new Camaro. Yet despite that fact that you have no accidents or speeding tickets, the insurance company charges you high premiums. This is because of the risk involved in owning a speedy automobile.
Flood insurance appears to be no different. If there is flooding concern in the area, but you have lived in your house for 50 years with no incidents, it does not matter to FEMA. You are considered a risk, rightly or wrongly, by its science and computer models. This is not an exact science.
There is an element out there that continues to fight FEMA and paint the village with its broad brush. These individuals are heavy with bluster but light on facts. They base most of their diatribes on rumor, innuendo and hearsay. They have no scientific information that you may examine. They like to scream a lot, heartily believing that if you say something loudly and often enough, it will foster the “truth.”
One individual who likes to pass out fliers at train stations even went as far as to say that residents would get help from FEMA even if the village did not adopt the new flood maps. But, as they say, the devil is in the details. This information is both misleading and destructive.
If the village did not adopt the new maps, FEMA would still “help” if there was a crisis. However, an individual would have to file for a loan — key word: loan. You would be capped at about $31,000, and any money you received would first go to — you guessed it — the purchase of a high-premium flood insurance policy. There goes the money to fix your flood-ridden basement.
Certain individuals have formed a “civic” organization. They have held sparsely attended meetings on the FEMA issue. They even brought in an expert to discuss challenging the FEMA maps at the village’s expense. This process would cost millions of taxpayer dollars to challenge every parcel of land in the village. Even their own expert, who would have loved to take the village’s money, stated that challenging the FEMA maps would be an “impossible undertaking.”
In the past we have tried to work with the “civic” organization to reach an understanding on the FEMA issue. It has been fruitless. There are too many hidden and not-so-hidden agendas to reach an accord.
As I stated earlier, FEMA, love it or hate it, appears to have its act together, and the state DEC concurs. Valley Stream has joined Lynbrook, Cedarhurst and the Town of Hempstead in adopting the new flood maps. We are in FEMA Region ll. All of the municipalities in Region ll have voted to accept the maps. Valley Stream was the last to adopt because the board wanted to explore all options thoroughly before it took action.
The flood map issue is an ongoing process, and the fight goes on for our residents who we feel are unduly placed in flood hazard areas and who do not qualify for the preferred risk policies. In the weeks and months ahead, the village will continue to work with federal officials on both sides of the aisle, with FEMA and the state, to help the 855 properties left in the high-risk flood zones.
Robert D. Barra is the Valley Stream village clerk and a former state assemblyman for the 14th District.