Maps could help Tyrone residents

TYRONE – At a time when skyrocketing flood insurance rates have many people scared of losing their homes, an effort by Tyrone Borough leaders to pursue accurate flood maps might help its residents.

A study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, contained in three binders and a computerized disk, spells out why 46 Tyrone properties should no longer be in a flood plain.

And the study also explains why the flood risk facing 429 more properties should be redefined.

“Most of them, if not all, should be able to have their flood insurance rates dropped,” Mayor Bill Fink said.

While the Corps didn’t do the study to remove people from flood plains or have their insurance premiums drop, that seems to be an initial benefit, study author Craig Thomas of the Corps Baltimore office said Friday.

The greater benefit for Tyrone, Thomas said, is in the forthcoming work, which will explore the best flood mitigation measures for the borough, which developed around the Little Juniata River and Bald Eagle Creek. But to get that work, Thomas said, the Corps had to do the study examining the borough’s flood maps and the risks facing property owners.

Fink, who is interested in long-term efforts that will minimize the potential for flooding in the borough, is also happy with the study’s initial results.

If FEMA agrees with the Corps’ study, then Fink will be in position to announce some good news for worried flood insurance policyholders like Matthew Germino.

Germino bought a house on the 300 block of West 18th Street in October 2012, thinking that flood insurance would cost him about $50 a month or $600 annually.

But after FEMA updated the borough’s flood maps and lawmakers passed the Biggert-Waters Act to help the National Flood Insurance Program, his premium was set at $240 a month or $2,900 annually.

“On top of that, my insurance policy carries a $5,000 deductible and will not cover most of the machinery in my basement if it were to be destroyed in a flood,” Germino said.

While President Barack Obama on Friday signed a bill that will restrict premium increases to 18 percent annually for most flood insurance policyholders, the better option for Germino and others could be the Corps study.

Germino said he and Fink reviewed FEMA flood maps showing the lowest point of his property 6 feet below the flood plain. But the work done by the Corps study, Germino said, showed his property only a foot below the flood plain.

“Even though my house would still be deemed to be in a flood plain, this change in footage would drastically reduce the premium that would be paid,” Germino said.

Borough Manager Phyllis Garhart is currently collecting information from affected property owners that will be submitted to FEMA along with the Corps study. She said the property owners have been contacted and a meeting will be set up, probably in April, to review the process.

“It’s really important for everyone to respond,” Garhart said. “Otherwise, they’re facing flood insurance premiums that could increase their mortgage to the point that they can’t afford it.”

Once submitted, FEMA is expected to review the study and the Corps recommendations.

“We did the study to meet FEMA’s guidelines and requirements, so I don’t anticipate any technical issues that will hinder it,” Thomas said.

Fink has the same hopes.

He said a lot of time and effort has been put into the project, not only by the borough and the Army Corps but also by U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, state Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr. and state Rep. Jerry Stern, who helped keep the project moving.

“There’s been a lot of work done to get us to this point,” Fink said.

He hasn’t forgotten his reaction, three years ago, when the updated FEMA flood maps arriving at the borough municipal building.

“I said then that there’s going to be a lot of rate increases for flood insurance,” Fink said.

While FEMA’s website provides offer instructions for individuals and communities to seek flood zone changes, Fink and Garhart said they think Tyrone may be the only municipality to initiate the pursuit. One of the borough residents initiated a pursuit, Fink said, but he paid for an engineering study to back up his request that’s pending.

“I’m extremely glad that Mayor Fink is going to bat for us,” Germino said. “It’s very difficult to go up against an entity like FEMA.”

Fink also said he remains committed to flood control efforts that will build upon past measures, like the flap gates on the stormwater outlets that he thinks have helped keep river water from backing up and flooding the downtown area.

“I believe this community can grow greatly if we can get the water under control,” Fink said.

He and Garhart said they have no interest in flood control measures that involve demolition.

“There’s no truth to the rumor that properties will be purchased and torn down,” Fink said.

Thomas said the Corps will be looking at various options, which could be very effective in minimizing the risk of flooding and damage in Tyrone.

“There’s a slew of different flood mitigation measures we could consider … and that’s why we started this study,” Thomas said. “We need to determine the alternatives … the costs … and get people away from the risk.”