Flood rates draining to owners

Federal lawmakers may think that gradual increases for flood insurance premiums are the best way to address the bankrupt National Flood Insurance Program.

But the new premiums, even if the increases are tacked on annually, are going to hurt a lot of homeowners and their communities. So rather than waiting for more federal action, we urge local municipal leaders to look into the accuracy of flood maps issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

A recent study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on behalf of Tyrone Borough spelled out steps the Corps took to examine the flood risk facing a group of properties in Tyrone. Based on the work done, the study calls for removing 46 properties from the flood plain and redefining the flood risk for 429 more properties.

The Corps’ study, the basis for some additional work to identify the best flood control measures for Tyrone, should make other municipal leaders start thinking about their own areas and residents.

About three years ago, FEMA began distributing updated flood maps to local municipalities and urged those maps be reviewed with the residents.

In some cases, those maps were posted on municipal websites, and they were referred to during public meetings. While new flood maps were long overdue, we don’t remember any municipal leaders, at least not locally, initiating action to question the accuracy of the maps and seek revisions.

Now, after a lack of action, some property owners with a questionable chance of being flooded are being told they must have flood insurance or if they already have a policy, they’re learning that their premiums are going to skyrocket. Changes are surfacing because the National Flood Insurance Program is deep in debt due to storms that have caused millions in damage.

FEMA’s website spells out instructions on how to raise questions about a property’s potential for flooding, something than can be pursued by an individual or a community.

We think that task is best handled by a municipality, which routinely refers to flood maps when evaluating land development plans and land use changes. With assistance from property owners and engineers, municipal leaders can be in the best position to represent their citizens when approaching FEMA.

Tyrone, with its study by the Corps and additional information from affected property owners, will soon be ready to knock on FEMA’s door and ask for flood map changes that appear to be well-warranted.

No matter how FEMA came up with its flood plain maps, the Corps’ study for Tyrone is based on more detailed information that evaluated the flood risk of individual properties.

On behalf of Tyrone, Mayor Bill Fink and Borough Manager Phyllis Garhart seem to have worked well together on the effort and deserve praise for trying to help residents now looking for relief from higher-than-necessary flood insurance premiums. But their work, along with the work of the Corps, could be even more valuable if it leads to flood-control measures for a town that grew up beside the Little Juniata River and Bald Eagle Creek.

Tyrone has been through some hard times because of a changing economy, a history of flooding and a dropping population. But those who live in the borough still have a spirit that serves their community well.

For the sake of Tyrone, we hope FEMA personnel quickly approve the flood map changes being sought.

And we hope to see more municipal leaders reviewing flood maps and seeking changes on behalf of their residents and for the sake of accuracy.