Rehberg Challenges New FEMA Flood Zones That Could Force Montana Businesses to Close Their Doors

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Montana’s Congressman, Denny Rehberg,is questioning new Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood zoning policies that may cause some businesses in Montana to close their doors due to dramatic increases in the cost of flood insurance.

Rehberg sent a letter to FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate to raise concerns about the re-mapping of flood plains across Montana that are placing areas in higher risk zones, with seemingly little justification or consideration for the economic impact.

“These federal bureaucrats just don’t seem to understand that the lines they draw on maps in D.C. create real problems for folks in Montana,” said Rehberg, a member of the Congressional Levy Caucus. “President Obama’s Administration has charged blindly forward with new rules and regulations without considering how they will impact the economy and family budgets.  I’m fighting to make sure FEMA is held accountable and the most onerous, unnecessary mistakes are avoided.”

In 2011, FEMA revised their procedures for several non-accredited levee scenarios. Representatives of FEMA along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) convened to analyze the methods being used for mapping.  What they came back with was a “without levees” analysis, which has been used to determine flood risk for many properties around the country.

FEMA’s remapping program now uses an all-or-nothing approach, meaning that if a levee has not been accredited, FEMA will redraw the flood map as if that levee doesn’t exist.  The controversial “without levees” analysis assumes that a levee or flood control structure that exists physically does not exist for the purposes of modeling.  This has resulted in much less precise modeling, and has cost undeserved folks thousands in insurance costs and lost property value.

If FEMA’s modeling tools determine that an area has a one-percent annual chance of flooding, property owners in that area are required to purchase flood insurance.  Levees that aren’t necessarily certified can still offer a measure of protection that can substantially reduce the risk of flooding, which some argue should be taken into consideration when determining flood insurance rates

Rehberg’s concerns about the cost to the Montana’s economy, as pointed out in his letter to FEMA, are exemplified in the case of Beth McCurry, owner of Land of Magic restaurant in Logan, about 30 miles west of Bozeman.  McCurry contacted Rehberg’s office after facing the threat of an $11,000 increase in business costs for flood insurance due to FEMA’s gerrymandering.  Though she’s running a profitable family business currently, McCurry says the dramatic increase in insurance costs will put her too deep into the red, and leave her no choice but to close her doors.

“In five years of ownership I have never needed flood insurance, the previous two owners have not needed flood insurance, the river has not changed course, the building has not moved, I don’t understand why all of a sudden it’s in the worst flood zone,” said McCurry.  “I love my restaurant, but now I’m facing the prospect of it becoming a burden.”

The letter to Administrator Fugate is below:

Dear Administrator Fugate:

As you are aware, FEMA is in the process of re-mapping designated flood plain areas across the country.  While I understand the reasoning behind updating the flood plain zones, these changes have caused much distress.

Many areas that have never historically experienced flooding problems are being designated as higher risk zones and are thus being forced to purchase cost prohibitive flood insurance.  Many businesses can not afford the increase in insurance costs, and are worried that the new designation will force them to shut their doors, consequently individuals are seeing property values plummet.

Many businesses who have fallen into this category have appealed this new designation citing unexpected cost increases that could put them out of business.  One example is Beth McCurry, owner of Land of Magic restaurant, who informed me of the designation of her land as a high flood risk zone done by aerial mapping. When she bought the property only a few years earlier, the land had no such designation, and had been through a flood zone evaluation in 1999.  In addition to a steep drop in the value of her investment property, she will likely have to close her restaurant if she has to pay the $11,000/year in flood insurance that will be required.  Beth’s story is just one example of many individuals and businesses that have been adversely affected by these new designations.

With that said, there are a few questions I would like to pose to you in this regard:

 1. Was the potential impact on land value considered when determining how to decide on new high risk zones?
 2. Are the individuals impacted by these decisions given the option of a more thorough evaluation?
 3. Are ground evaluations available to those who contest the aerial evaluation?
 4. How extensive and expensive is the appeal process?
 5. What is the turn-around on appeals?
 6. What is the average time for an appeal to be heard and a discussion made?

Thank you very much for your timely consideration of this matter, and please don’t hesitate to contact my office at (202) 225-3211.

Sincerely,

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