New Harvey Co. Flood Maps Show Hundreds Of Homeowners At Risk

By: Cayle Thompson Email
By: Cayle Thompson Email

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Friday, May 21, 2010

New federal flood maps for Harvey County, set to go into effect in October, could require hundreds of homeowners in the county's western sections to purchase flood insurance.

Scott Davies, director of Planning & Zoning for the county, says the new "100 Year Flood" maps are the first for the area in nearly 30 years. Budget restraints kept FEMA from updating the maps until the last few years.

Bob Franke, a civil engineer for FEMA, says the new maps used findings from private surveyors and data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

Davies showed KAKE News a map from the early 1980s with new lines drawn to represent the changes. Western areas of the counties saw the most change, with some flood plains growing by about 25 percent, according to Davies.

The changes could affect as many as 300 rural homes, Davies said.

But some aren't convinced the new maps are 100% accurate. Davies says land in Western Harvey County is more level than land to the east. FEMA took measurements in 10-foot increments, which Davies worries may not have picked up all the subtle changes in topography.

"A few feet can throw [water lines] off by a mile and a half because the ground doesn't slope as much," Davies said.

Burrton homeowner Homer Unruh received notice earlier this year his home sits in a flood plain.

"How in the world could I be a quarter mile from the creek and still be in the flood plain," Unruh asked.

Unruh says he's never had water anywhere near his house.

"I've lived on this property for 35 years," Unruh told KAKE News. "The original flood plain is about a quarter mile away from me. Now it runs right through the center of my home."

Like Unruh, many other homeowners who recently learned they now live in a flood plain may be required to carry flood insurance. An exception can be made if homeowners hire surveyors who can prove their home is not at risk.

Unruh's home rises about two feet above the surrounding fields. He's debating using surveyors not only to avoid the expense of flood insurance, but to retain the value of his home.

Davies says there's little that can be done to alter the new maps until FEMA re-examines the area in about five years.

In the meantime, he says homeowners can save hundreds of dollars on flood insurance by purchasing before the maps become official on October 6.

But it's not all bad news. In Newton, several hundred homeowners may be able to drop their flood insurance. Because of improvements along the Sand Creek over the last 30 years, FEMA scaled back the flood plain through the center of town.

Property owners with questions or concerns about the new flood maps can visit with FEMA and County leaders on Thursday, May 27, at the Harvey Co. Courthouse in Newton. Officials will be available from 4 to 8 p.m. to answer questions and offer advice.

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