Valley Stream residents didn’t get many answers during an often contentious meeting about the status of federal flood maps on Monday night at the Forest Road School. About 100 residents attended the meeting hosted by the Mill Brook Civic Association, and many were upset that a representative from the Federal Emergency Management Agency came with no new information.
Several months ago, Congress passed a law requiring FEMA to redraw the flood maps in Nassau County, believing that current maps, which went into effect in September 2009, are flawed. FEMA spokesman Don Caetano said he expects to have an update on the progress of those new maps in four to six weeks.
That had residents questioning why a meeting was even called if no new information was available. Caetano said he wanted to speak to the residents in person, rather than canceling the meeting.
Also in attendance was Congressman Gregory Meeks, who represents the 6th District. However, beginning in 2013, his current district will shift to include part of Valley Stream, including Mill Brook. Meeks said he knows that the flood maps are a concern in the community, and attended Monday’s meeting so, if re-elected, he is be well apprised of the specific concerns. “I’m here to listen, and then work with FEMA to make it happen,” he said.
Meeks said he understands that the flood maps in Valley Stream need to change, and residents would not find it acceptable if all or most of the community remains in the high-risk flood zone when new maps are proposed.
Mill Brook resident Robert Linton said the requirement for flood insurance is simply unnecessary. “The biggest flood I’m going to get is from my upstairs bathroom overflowing,” he said.
“We got hit with flood insurance that we feel is unnecessary,” added Diane Pearsall. “I’ve been here 15 years and I haven’t seen a flood yet.”
Linton called on FEMA to immediately suspend the requirement for homeowners to purchase flood insurance until the new maps are drafted and accepted. “You’re supposed to be working for us,” he told Caetano. “But you’re not.”
Carol Crupi, president of the Valley Stream Community Association, said the problem is with the base flood elevations. When the new maps were drawn in 2009, FEMA set the minimum property elevation at 11 feet, 4 inches in Valley Stream to be excluded from the flood zone, instead of the previous eight feet. That change put thousands of homes into the zone, and Crupi said those properties will remain there unless the base flood elevation is changed. “Until that is lowered back to the eight foot level,” she said, “all of this is a moot point.”
Joseph Margolin, a board member of the Valley Stream Community Association, said residents have been asking FEMA for three years why the base flood elevation was changed and has yet to get a straight answer. He, like others, was frustrated with Caetano’s lack of information on Monday night, especially on questions that have been asked previously. “There’s no excuse for you being here without the answers,” he said.
Margolin said that, by executive order, President Barack Obama could simply remove Valley Stream for the flood zone, and he called on Meeks to suggest that to the president, someone Meeks described as a friend.
Another concern among residents was that several homeowners are paying higher flood insurance premiums than necessary. Beginning in 2011, residents added to the flood zone in September 2009 became eligible for the reduced Preferred Risk Policy rate of about $400 per year, instead of $2,000 or more. However, several residents, including Linda Kettering, said some banks and insurance companies are charging more than the PRP rate.
Kettering added that she was concerned that these companies are not being informed by FEMA about rate reductions, and which homes are eligible for the lower premiums.
Because FEMA sets the flood insurance rates, Caetano said that the agency must do better in communicating with insurance companies and banks, to ensure that homeowners are not being overcharged.
Mary Powers said she is being charged thousands of dollars per year in flood insurance in Valley Stream. She said she believes those high rates are erroneous but has been unable to convince her bank. Additionally, she said it is outrageous that her flood insurance premium in Valley Stream would be higher than for a second property she owns in Rockaway Beach, a coastal community.
Crupi added that the flood zone has hurt property values in the community. “We cannot sell our homes,” she said. “Would you buy a house in a high-risk flood zone even if we told you we did not flood?”
Meeks said he understood her point, and admitted he would not want to buy a home in a flood zone. That’s why, he said, change must come. “The remapping should substantially or completely remove you from being in the flood zone,” he said.
Marc Tenzer, president of the Mill Brook Civic Association, said he was glad that Meeks and FEMA got to hear the concerns of residents. However, he expressed his dismay with the agency’s lack of new information for homeowners. “They didn’t present anything. I’m very disappointed that FEMA came unprepared for this meeting,” he said. “I hope for the next meeting that FEMA can come in with information that the flood maps have been redone, lowered our elevation levels below eight feet and we no longer need flood insurance.”