Rising above the flood: Higher levees mean lower insurance cost

This drone photo shows an overview of some of the work currently under way on the levee system in Danville.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) wants residents of Danville and Mahoning Township to review updated Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs).

Residents have a 90-day period that began July 15 to appeal or comment on the maps.

Danville Borough, though, already is appealing the maps in the hope of gaining certification to reduce or eliminate flood insurance payments for residents and business owners.

The maps of flood zones are routinely updated to more accurately assess the risks, which change over time, FEMA noted.

Federal officials this time updated the maps in response to the extensive flooding during Tropical Storm Lee in September 2011.

The borough has appealed the flood map to get FEMA to certify the Sechler Run and lower Susquehanna and Mahoning Creek levee systems, said Jackie Hart, Danville’s director of code and building development and the borough’s floodplain manager.

“FEMA has reviewed our engineering and has provided comments for us to address. We have signed a contract with Wood Engineering to complete that task.”

Hart said that when she became food plain manager in October of 2018, she took classes and realized portions of Danville’s flood protection systems were not certified when the state built the systems in the 1970s and 1980s.

“They had never been submitted to FEMA for approval,” Hart said. “Nothing was ever permitted or approved by FEMA.”

She said the borough raised $80,000 in donations for the initial engineering study, which FEMA recognized as an appeal. The borough submitted the engineering information to FEMA in December and recently received a comment list for what FEMA now calls the “Susquehanna Left Bank Mahoning Creek Levee System.”

The borough will spend another $69,000 on additional engineering to provide information FEMA is seeking.

Hart said that because of the borough’s levee systems, all of the 2nd Ward is protected. If the system is certified, residents should see a decrease or elimination of flood insurance rates in that part of the borough.

The same for the industrial district and two-thirds of downtown if Sechler Run also is accredited.

“Pine, Church, Ferry, Lower Mulberry and North Mill (streets) would still be a special hazard area due to overtopping of the Pine Street bridge over Sechler Run,” she said.

“The flood zones increased slightly due to a change in the base flood elevation,” Hart said. “Accreditation of our system would remove a large percentage of the special flood hazard area, which would eliminate the mandatory flood insurance for a federally backed mortgage.”

Hart has said some property owners were paying up to $3,000 to $4,000 a year in some areas for flood insurance.

“Residents, business owners and other community partners are encouraged to review the updated maps to learn about local flood risks and potential future flood insurance requirements,” FEMA said. “They may submit an appeal if they perceive that modeling or data used to create the map is technically or scientifically incorrect.”

According to a FEMA release, an appeal must include technical information, such as hydraulic or hydrologic data, to support the claim.

Appeals cannot be based on the effects of proposed projects or projects started after the study is in progress.

FEMA also noted that if property owners see incorrect information that does not change the flood hazard information — such as a missing or misspelled road name in the Special Flood Hazard Area or an incorrect corporate boundary — they can submit a written comment.

“The updated maps were produced in coordination with local, state and FEMA officials,” FEMA said. “Significant community review of the maps has already taken place, but before the maps become final, community partners can identify any corrections or questions about the information provided and submit appeals or comments.

Residents may submit appeals and comments by contacting their municipality’s floodplain administrator.

“The next step in the mapping process is the resolution of all comments and appeals,” according to the agency. “Once they are resolved, FEMA will notify communities of the effective date of the final maps.”

The preliminary maps may be viewed online at the FEMA Flood Map Changes Viewer: http://msc.fema.gov/fmcv.

Changes from the current maps may be viewed online at the Susquehanna River Flood Map Viewer: https://arcg.is/1CLSan.

More background information on the mapping update is available at https://www.fema.gov/pennsylvania/mitigating-flood-risk.

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