August 24, 2011
Updated Sept. 1. Correction. David McLain was incorrectly identified as being the Pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church. Apologies for the mistake.
America in the Balance, an internet radio program hosted by Amanda Teegarden (Exec. Director, OK-SAFE, Inc.) & Don Wyatt (Tulsa 912) did a very interesting show on the FEMA Flood mapping taking place in our state last Sunday.
Their two guests David McClain and Margaret Snow shared their experiences with FEMA and the new floodplain maps that are being drawn up in Oklahoma.
The two are looking for other Oklahomans who have had a similar experience with FEMA and their new maps. OK. Attorney General Scott Pruitt has agreed to take a look at documented instances of questionable FEMA flood re-designations. (Contact information can be found at the end of this article.)
These flood maps produced by FEMA will indicate which property owners must purchase flood insurance. Development is discouraged in the designated zones and building or development in the floodplains is often highly regulated
If you have had your property’s flood designation changed or had an encounter with FEMA or the Oklahoma Water Resources Board regarding floodplain designation, you will be interested in these two stories.
(Listen to the archived show here or read the summary I have written from the radio show interviews.)
Skiatook Township, David McLain
David McLain who is in the construction industry and a member of Immanuel Baptist Church in Skiatook tells Amanda and Don that a few weeks ago he noticed some officials taking measurements on his property. David approached the two gentlemen to find out what they were doing. The two identified themselves as being with FEMA and informed Mr. McClain that they were working on adjusting floodplain designations. One of the agents, Gavin Brady, although he introduced himself as being with FEMA, the business card he handed to David showed him as being with the Oklahoma Water Resource Board. The other agent is reported to be Matthew Rollins.
Curious as to why the man is representing both FEMA and the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, I did a little searching and found that the OWRB is under a cooperative agreement with FEMA and is the coordinating state agency for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) for the state of Oklahoma. link
“Many of the nation’s flood hazard maps are outdated and no longer realistically depict the true flood risk. As a result, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is conducting a multi-year effort, the Map Modernization Program, to update these maps and present them in a more reliable digital format that is easily accessible to local and state floodplain officials” link
(For more about the FEMA/ Oklahoma Map Modernization program, click here.)
Here is a little more information about Mr. Gavin Brady.
Gavin Brady, CFM (Certified Floodplain Manager) has been with the Oklahoma Water Resources Board since 1982. In addition, he is the Oklahoma State Coordinator for NFIP (National Flood Insurance Program). He also serves on the Board of Directors for the Oklahoma Floodplain Managers Association. link and is a chapter member of ASFPM- the Association of Flood Plain Managers
According to the ASFPM website, “Chapter members represent local, state and federal government agencies, citizen groups, private consulting firms, academia, the insurance industry, and lenders”
The ASFPM has some very interesting new management techniques that really got my attention while researching water management issues a few months ago. This new water management technique is called No Adverse Impact or NAI.
ASFPM’s “No Adverse Impact” represents a whole new method of land management that raised a whole lot of red flags in my mind but in the interest of brevity, I will have to cover this another day but let me just leave you with this information just to give you an idea of what concerned me; ASFPM says that No Adverse Impact is “A New Direction in Floodplain Management Consistent with the Concept of Sustainable Development”
Back to David McLain.
On that first day he encountered the men on his property, McClain asked to see the map they were using (dated 1999), his property was not within the flood area on their map and the officials indicated that his property was not in the floodplain.
Over the next 3 days the story changes dramatically.
Sorry Wrong Map
The very next day McClain was contacted and informed that his property actually was within the floodplain/ He was told that the first map “was the wrong map” Furthermore, the agent informed McClain that in addition to his property adjacent to the church that about half of his church parking lot was included in the new floodplain designation.
The agent proceeds to informed Mr. McClain that they did have some good news to report. The new designation of the property entitled him to buy flood insurance from the federal government. Oh joy! On top of the certain devaluing of his property due to the flood zone designation, David might also be obliged to pay the government for insurance that he may not want or need.
Unsurprisingly, David was not impressed and rather than thanking the gentleman he began to inquire further. By what authority they can just declare the property to be within a flood zone? He was informed by Gavin Brady, the FEMA/Oklahoma Water Resource Board representative, that FEMA has partnered with the township. In the course of David’s discussions with these two, he was given the very distinct impression that they believed that the Constitution did not apply to them.
Following up on the Skiatook Township’s partnership as asserted by the FEMA representatives, David McLain took the problem to Skiatook’s managers. He wanted to know where the township got its authority to enter into this “partnership” that was threatening his rights and as a citizen and property owner not to mention putting the Church at risk.
Behold! A New Map
Shortly after these inquiries, David receives a call back from the Township Manager who informs him that a new map had been found. Seems that neither Davids property nor the Church is actually in the new flood zone after all! Bright and early the following morning, one of the FEMA agents visits David’s house and drops off the new map showing that his property is safely outside of the new flood zone. All of this took place within a space of three days.
You have to wonder If David had simply accepted the new FEMA designation, as many citizens would be likely to do, what would have become of his property. What if he had not happened to see the government officials taking measurements on his property to begin with? Would he have been notified in time to protest?
Washington County, Margaret Snow
Margaret Snow’s story gives an idea of how the alternate scenario might play out.
Margaret lives in Washington County, an unincorporated area near the Oklahoma/Kansas border. She has 40 acres of land that has been owned by her family since 1946. This property is designated as upland agricultural, at least it had been for as long as Margaret can remember.
Back in November of 2008, Margaret went to her local bank to see about getting her home refinanced. Right before closing on the bargain, Margaret received notice from her bank that there was a problem. A rather large problem really-due to the fact that her property had very recently (Sept. 26, 2008) been designated by FEMA as a Zone A flood prone area. This was news to Margaret!
(Zone A: defined as areas in the 100-year floodplain. There are many different sub designation possible under Zone A link)
What this meant for Margaret is that her monthly loan payments would actually be about double what the bank had originally negotiated with her. Margaret could not take the loan.
Margaret says that the property has never flooded since her family has owned it and there are no bodies of water near the property nor has there been any development that may have changed the lay of the land in such a way as to impact drainage. It appears that the only thing that has changed is the imaginary line drawn by FEMA. How much did this line change her property value? Margaret is not sure but here is what she does know; The value of her property appraised before FEMA’s Zone A (high risk) designation, and the appraisal value after the new FEMA designation, sunk by half. Margaret also notes that the value of a nearby property, also considered upland agricultural land, that was not included in FEMA’s new flood prone designation, stayed the same.
A ZONE A designation requires many property owners to purchase FEMA’s flood insurance.
Property owners in a FEMA ZONE A ( high risk ) flood zone with mortgages from federally regulated or insured lenders are required to have flood insurance-all property owners are strongly encouraged to buy insurance.
“At the heart of FEMA’s flood map, and indeed at the heart of its strategy, is a definition of “flood” that seems to have been written with no thought to what a flood actually is, contributing to the notion that it was drawn primarily to ensnare millions of property owners in an insurance scheme.” –David Tunno, The FEMA Scheme
A FEMA Zone A designation (within the 100 year floodplain) requires property owners to purchase flood insurance if they live in communities that participate in FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program or NFIP. The NFIP is also the only provider of flood insurance. ( Here is the list of Oklahoma communities that are registered as participants in the NFIP as of 2010.) Banks will also require you to agree to get flood insurance if you want a home loan.
The Tulsa World reports on March 7 2010;
Property mistaken as flood plain
“That we were in a flood plain and we required flood insurance was a total surprise,” Kristy Boyd said.
And totally wrong. Read more
How to Change a FEMA Flood Map
David McLain and Margaret noted that both were told that there was a process for changing these regulatory boundaries set by FEMA which would exempt the property owner from the flood insurance requirement.
I found a website that addressed this very issue. Suite 101 under Engineering explains; How to Change a FEMA Flood Map
“FEMA flood maps can be changed. Some changes are simple and require only a surveyor. Other changes require detailed engineering. Property owners can benefit.”
In short there are several types of of map changes a property owner can attempt that would result in their property being re designated to a non-flood zone. The simplest amendment is by showing that FEMA made an error on the map the most involved would require actual changes to be made to the topography of the land itself such as filling it in. All of them will cost you something and obviously the more involved amendments would only be an option for the very wealthy.
It may take a lot of time and money, but apparently it is possible for a property owner to turn a FEMA floodplain into high land but it only takes the mark of FEMA’s pen to turn high land into a floodplain.
Arbitrary, Inaccurate, Short Notice
The obvious concern here is that the whole process appears ripe for abuse. On the surface, there is the appearance of arbitrariness. What about property owner notification and an opportunity for appeal?
The FEMA Scheme
David Tunno, at the request of residents in Calaveres County,CA, investigated FEMA’s flood mapping process. His report, The FEMA Scheme, is eye opening and I recommend anyone with questions about this process.
“We know the result of the sub-prime home loan meltdown, but I question how different is the behavior of FEMA? Has it falsified information on the flood status of properties in an attempt to force owners to buy flood insurance? Has it placed properties in flood zones without sufficient evidence? Has it pressured, scared or fooled owners into buying flood insurance who either did not need it, or before there was sufficient evidence of the need? Has it ignored historic rainfall and flood data in drawing its maps? Has it concocted a definition of flood solely for the purpose of expanding its own pool of insurance policy holders?
The evidence shows that “all of the above” would be the accurate answer; or at the very least that FEMA has been so wanton in its behavior as to produce the same result. Finally, isn’t FEMA’s take-it-or-else position with the County akin to putting a gun to the head of the County at the expense of thousands of property owners (and how many nationwide)?
FEMA is an insurance monopoly with tremendous power. It is being allowed to do five things that any unscrupulous monopoly power would love to be able to do and, if they did, might well face prosecution for doing so; 1) It is being allowed to invent the need for its product (insurance), 2) It is being allowed to mandate the purchase of its product, a product only it sells, 3) It controls the price of its product, 4) It is being allowed to employ, coerce, or bribe (pick your favorite verb) other government entities (counties) to assist it, and 5) It is being allowed to deny the purchase of its product to anyone who lives in a county that won’t play ball, thereby forcing the county to hand over thousands of new policy holders to FEMA or cause those who actually need the insurance to lose that coverage.”
The FEMA Scheme by David Tunno
It isn’t only angry land owners who have these concerns.
2007 Oklahoma Floodplain Managers issue complaints to FEMA
In 2007, the Oklahoma Floodplain Managers wrote to the FEMA Flood Map Modernization Team expressing concerns about FEMA’s Flood Map Modernization efforts.
“There have been several deficiencies in quality and process with the production of the new DFIRM [Digital Flood Insurance Maps] data for Oklahoma.”
The Oklahoma Floodplain Managers cited;
- Countywide kickoff meetings with short notifications for local officials,
- Inaccurate and arbitrary A-Zone additions to maps,
- Inaccurate enhanced A-Zone mapping, leaving off previously finalized Letter of Map
- Changes on detailed studies,
- Delayed DFIRM mapping schedules,
- Non-compliant appeal period notifications,
- Incomplete or missing technical data, etc.
Noting that these “are a few of the problems encountered on countywide floodplain mapping studies within Oklahoma”
Oklahoma Floodplain Managers told FEMA that they believed that “Local engineers could perform work of the same or better quality and would likely have better working knowledge of local floodplains and studies. Accountability and responsiveness to local communities would be better served from engineers practicing in the same state.”
Has this Happened to You?
If you have experienced a similar situation with FEMA or floodplain designation Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has said that he is willing to meet with people who live in Oklahoma and who have a similar documented circumstance of a new FEMA floodplain designation that they believe may be unfair.