ANGLETON — Most Brazoria County residents don’t have to worry too much about changes in flood zoning, but for those living right on the coast, it could be more complicated, according to new Federal Emergency Management Agency floodplain maps.
Surfside Beach and Hide Away on the Gulf, a small community just outside of Oyster Creek city limits, will have major elevation level changes, according to the proposed maps. At Hide Away on the Gulf, the minimum elevation level jumps from 11 feet above sea level in the 1989 maps to 16 feet in the new maps.
In Surfside Beach, the difference went from 15 feet in 1989 to 17 feet now, according to the maps.
Changes of a couple feet or more can pose a challenge for builders, especially if they’re already in the middle of a project, Brazoria County Floodplain Director Joe Ripple said. While it could be a while before the maps are finalized, Ripple said the county and FEMA will start recommending the maps to builders and insurers as “best practice.”
“The reality is, it’s extremely important to have when we live in an area like we do that has an enormous amount of it in a flood zone,” Ripple said. “We also have to contend with a velocity zone, which is the ocean. So, we have river flooding and the potential for ocean flooding. We have to be prepared and take every opportunity for it to not flood.”
As the proposed maps enter the 90-day appeal period, FEMA and the county are partnering to put on open houses this week to inform people what the new maps mean, how they will affect certain properties and how residents can work with insurance companies to find affordable solutions for flood protection.
The open houses will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Lake Jackson Civic Center, 333 Highway 332 E., and 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Brazoria County Fairgrounds auditorium, 901 S. Downing Road in Angleton. FEMA engineers and insurance agents will give a brief presentation and be available to answer any questions.
“I think it’s great to get FEMA down here to do this because I think it’s important to know,” said Lake Jackson City Manager Bill Yenne, who is coordinating his city’s open house. “You get chances to talk right with the people who came up with the maps.”
Historically, Ripple said, attendance at these meetings is really low, but he urged people to attend and get a look at how the maps affect their properties.
“We can do an overlay with the 1989 maps and the new maps to see if there are any changes in the new maps for their particular piece of property. That’s important because the elevation of your structure is how the cost of your flood insurance is determined,” Ripple said. “If you’re in a flood zone or not in a flood zone also affects your insurance. It’s really important you be well-informed in various areas of the community.”
The new maps are the first changes in three decades. FEMA last conducted a study of the area, done in partnership with local municipalities and the county, in 1989, but Lake Jackson officials quickly found evidence something was wrong with their elevation calculations for those maps, Yenne said.
“There’s a lot of area we learned about from the ’91 to ’92 flood that existing FEMA maps developed in the ’80s were wrong by as much as 2 feet after the flood,” Yenne said.
If 2 feet doesn’t sound like much, FEMA’s website states just 1 inch of water can cause as much as $25,000 worth of damage to a home. Ten years ago, county officials also decided setting building requirements 2 feet above FEMA’s minimum elevation level was a good rule of thumb for flood protection, especially on the coastline, Ripple said.
“We would get pushback from contractors. They’d tell us, ‘You’re making us spend all this money’ and we’d tell them, ‘You spending this is cheaper than somebody having to rebuild their home,’” Yenne said.
Since most of Brazoria County is already considered a flood zone, officials don’t expect the new maps to impact that zoning very much if at all, Ripple said. But changes in development since 1989 could affect an area, FEMA Region VI spokesman Jonathan Colwell said.
“Especially when we’re looking as far back as into the ’80s, if there were things like new developments like concrete or asphalt, that’s going to react with runoff water differently than permeable soil,” he said.
Although the 1989 maps were wrong, according to an engineering study conducted by the City of Lake Jackson, FEMA now has better equipment and technology it can use to gather data and make estimations, Colwell said.
“Technology to capture elevation levels was not available in the ’80s, modeling software has gotten quite a bit better and we have computers that run a lot of modeling now,” he said.
Once the 90-day appeal period ends, FEMA will spend six months reviewing all appeals and determining whether changes need to be made to the proposed maps. If people don’t agree with the maps once they are finalized, they can still protest their property with FEMA through a letter of map amendment, Colwell said.
Once maps are finalized, the cities and counties will vote whether to adopt them into local building requirements, Ripple said.