D.C. to Appeal Revised Flood maps

January 25, 2008

The District of Columbia is planning to challenge new maps from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that would designate a broad section of the city’s center a flood zone.

The proposed new flood zone is several blocks wide and includes Federal Triangle, much of the Mall, and a large portion of southwest Washington.

After receiving a joint letter from several city agencies, FEMA said this month that it would wait until March 26 before giving final approval to the new maps.

Property owners in the new flood zone could face stricter building codes and could be required to obtain flood insurance. The flood maps haven’t been updated since 1985.

FEMA is revising the maps in cities that cannot prove local levees will work in a flood. The maps are redrawn as if the levees didn’t exist.
D.C. officials have expressed deep concern over the maps, which show a proposed new flood zone several blocks wide that extends from the Lincoln Memorial to Fort McNair, in southwest Washington.

The flood maps haven’t been changed since 1985, and the update is part of a post-Hurricane Katrina analysis, officials said.

City officials said the proposals took many people by surprise.

“Who would ever suspect in the middle of the city . . . that you’re suddenly in a 100-year flood plain?” Harriet Tregoning, director of the D.C.’s Office of Planning, said Wednesday.

If the maps become official, homes in the zone with federally backed mortgages or with mortgages from federally backed banks would be required to have federal flood insurance, said Butch Kinerney, a spokesman for the FEMA directorate that administers the National Flood Insurance Program.

Flood insurance costs about $600 a year, he said.

Meanwhile, new buildings in the zone would have to be built above certain base flood levels, which vary throughout the area. Officials have said that projects such as the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and the expansion of the Department of Commerce building would have to be reviewed if the changes are adopted.

The proposal was drawn up after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported last year that levees designed to protect downtown Washington from Potomac River flooding are inadequate. If the levees were brought up to standard, the hazard zone would be shrunk.
Corps officials said repair of the levees would have to be paid for by Congress, but it’s unclear how much that would cost.

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