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Coastal flood hazards: FEMA re-maps city properties

A small group of Federal Way residents will be subject to a few more regulations in the near future, thanks to an updated coastal flood hazard mapping project that King County and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is in the process of completing.

In total, 44 structures/residences are now in the danger zone for coastal flooding, according to FEMA. Because of this, any property owner in the flood hazard zone who has a federally backed home loan will be required to purchase flood insurance.

During a special meeting of the Federal Way City Council on Nov. 15, representatives of King County and FEMA gave presentations to the council regarding the need for this updated flood hazard map, how it was done, and what it means for those affected.

Jeanne Stypula, supervising engineer for the river and floodplain management division of King County, said this project was needed due to the fact that the existing maps, done by FEMA, were of low quality.

“(Those maps) are approximate, they’re very poor quality, and basically have some inaccurate illustrations of the flood hazard zones,” Stypula said. “So, by doing this study, we were able to provide more detailed information.”

Stypula touched on the Nov. 30 meeting with the community, saying 200 residents had been contacted through a postcard mailing. She encouraged all who received the postcards to attend that meeting because the public process portion of updating these maps is an important tool, both for her agency and for FEMA.

Larry Karpak, of Watershed Science and Engineering, said six different elements were used to create the more accurate maps. As part of their data collection, they performed a shoreline survey, did aerial photography, created topographic data, did wave studies both off and near shore, and performed a numerical analysis of the data.

“This data, at the end of this point, is the best available information for coastal areas, so this goes a long way to better documenting the true flood risk,” Karpak said.

Ted Perkins, regional engineer for FEMA, touched on the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), and how it will apply to Federal Way.

“Essentially what FEMA is looking to do, and the whole point of the National Flood Insurance Program is, is to determine the most appropriate flood risk and assign flood insurance rates to that,” Perkins said. “From that, we also set minimum flood plain construction standards, that any community in the National Flood Insurance Program has to regulate to.”

Perkins touched on the timeline for these local maps, saying there isn’t a specified end date yet. A preliminary map is expected to be completed by the spring or summer 2012. After that, Perkins said, there’s a 30-day comment period for the city to ensure the maps are accurate and other similar concerns. There is then a 90-day appeal process the city can take advantage of, if the maps are determined to be problematic.

After that 90-day appeal period, the city will have six months to update their current ordinance to reflect the updated maps, Perkins said.

John Graves spoke to the choice Federal Way has made regarding compliance with the FEMA maps and requirements. Graves said FEMA allows communities to choose from three “doors” in order to be in compliance. The first door is a model ordinance, the second a community checklist, and the third is a permit-by-permit approach. Federal Way went with “door number three,” Graves said, and explained what that meant.

“Essentially what that means is that each and every permit that occurs within the map floodplain is going to require a habitat assessment, and whether or not it’s going to have an adverse affect on fish,” Graves said.

Graves noted that low impact projects don’t require a habitat assessment, such as mowing grass, doing small scale landscaping or similar projects. The types of projects that would require a habitat assessment would include vegetation removal, bank armoring, channel straightening, habitat isolation, degraded water quality, reduced storage capacity and construction effects.

Check it out

The community meeting will be held 6:30 to 8 p.m. Nov. 30 at the Dumas Bay Centre, 3200 SW Dash Point Road. Residents can contact Will Appleton at (253) 835-2750 or william.appleton@cityoffederalway.com

 

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