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Flooding from Hurricane Isabel washes through the intersection of Aliceanna and South Wolfe streets in Fells Point in 2003. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)
Flooding from Hurricane Isabel washes through the intersection of Aliceanna and South Wolfe streets in Fells Point in 2003. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

New FEMA flood maps could mean big changes

It could determine who needs coverage, and what it costs

ANNAPOLIS — A long line of anxious property owners snaked through the cafeteria, past a sign-in table and down the hall — each of them waiting to be told whether they were in or out.

Floodplain maps have been redrawn by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware, a change that could shift properties into or out of a flood risk zone.

The updated maps are used to calculate flood insurance rates, so for homeowners whose properties moved into FEMAs designated flood risk areas, the map change could mean paying more for flood insurance.

Likewise, for properties that are no longer in a flood risk area, flood insurance costs may be lowered or insurance may no longer be required.

Over 200 Anne Arundel County residents attended a FEMA community open house in Edgewater’s South River High School on Sept. 9 to find out whether their property was among those affected.

One by one, attendees were directed to a long table of computers, monitors, and printers staffed by FEMA outreach team members.

Vivian and Harry Crispell, a couple from Churchton, were among those waiting in line to hear the news.

“We’ve lived in our home for 30 years and have always had flood insurance,” said Vivian Crispell.

During that time she has seen the price of that insurance slowly climb.

She and her husband lived in their home during Hurricane Isabel in 2003. The water came up to their house, set back about 500 feet from the shoreline of the Chesapeake Bay, but didn’t do any damage.

There on the monitor, new digital flood insurance rate maps displayed two images of their property on the screen—before and after snapshots that showed an aerial view of where the floodplain was and where it had been moved in relation to the property.

A series of colorful, shaded regions on the maps denote areas of high risk, moderate risk, low risk and no risk.

“Looks like we’re in the clear!” Harry Crispell said.

According to the previous version of the flood insurance rate maps, the Crispells’ home was in a low-risk flood area. Now, their property is shown in a no-risk zone.

Anne Arundel County redrew its floodplain maps in 2012, and FEMA followed last year. For some other counties, the new digital versions are replacing paper floodplain maps that date back 10, 20 or even 30 years. The need for updated and more accurate maps prompted FEMA’s coastal flood hazard analyses in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

The agency’s extensive study began in 2009 and made use of more modern digital mapping technologies and storm surge modeling.

FEMA completed its newest versions of the maps in Maryland county by county, starting in 2013. New digital flood insurance rate maps have already gone into effect for Baltimore County, Baltimore and Kent County, and will be effective in 14 other Maryland counties by early 2016.

Garrett, Allegany, Washington, Frederick, Montgomery and Howard counties are not being remapped as part of the study.

Although most of the digital maps are available online, regional FEMA representatives have been touring the coasts of Maryland, Virginia and Delaware to hold open house events like the one in Edgewater.

Open houses have already been held in all affected counties except Talbot, where a meeting will be scheduled for 2015.

Like the Crispells’, neighbors Richard Hull and Steve Boccabello also received good news about their homes near the Loch Haven marina in Edgewater.

According to the previous flood zone map, both of their properties were within the low-risk zone, meaning their mortgage lender could require them to get flood insurance.

Now, both have moved out of the risk zone completely, meaning their flood insurance rates could be reduced or no longer necessary — a result that was common for many open house attendees in Edgewater.

About 3,000 properties in Anne Arundel have moved out of flood risk zones, while only 435 are moving in, according to the county’s Office of Planning and Zoning.

Among those properties moving from moderate risk to no risk on FEMA’s new map is a row of businesses on Market Place Street near the Annapolis Harbor.

For Karen Johnson-Gedney, owner of City Dock Coffee on Market Place Street, moving out of the flood zone doesn’t mean she will be opting out of her flood insurance.

“I will likely keep some degree of flood insurance simply because I lived through Hurricane Isabel in 2003 and I remember the devastation. They say that was a ‘once in a lifetime’ storm, but who knows,” she said.

A small plaque on the wall near the register marks where about a foot of water flooded the coffee shop.

Hurricane Floyd in 1999 also hit Annapolis hard, flooding the city docks with 11 inches of rain and badly damaging the Liberty Tree, an Annapolis landmark.

“People who were around during Isabel or Floyd know how bad the damage was and even if they aren’t in a high-risk area they want to feel protected, “ said Greg Clem, customer service representative for Henry M. Murray Agency Inc. in Annapolis.

“It’s peace-of-mind coverage.”

Reduced insurance rates for those in flood risk zones may be obtained if a community participates in the National Flood Insurance Program, a program that helps residents obtain lower-cost, federally backed flood insurance—so long as that community enforces FEMA flood development regulations.

Maryland has 141 communities participating in the National Flood Insurance Program. The full list can be found at http://www.fema.gov/cis/MD.html.

For participating communities, properties changing from low risk to high risk may be able to save money with the program’s “grandfather rule,” which allows homeowners to lock in their current insurance rate, so that it will not significantly increase right after the new maps go into effect.

Many factors go into determining flood insurance rates, but property owners can contact their mortgage lender and insurance agent to determine whether their rates will change as a result of the new digital maps.For more information about the National Flood Insurance Program, visit https://www.floodsmart.gov/.

To view your property on the Digital Flood Insurance Rate Map, visit http://riskmap3.com/MD.

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