FEMA Delays Disputed Flood Map for Kansas Community

September 4, 2009

Federal authorities this week delayed implementation of a new flood plain map for Garden City, Kan., just days before local officials planned to ask a federal judge to block it.

A hearing scheduled for Thursday in U.S. District Court in Wichita was canceled after the Federal Emergency Management Agency notified the court that it was rescinding a letter that would have implemented the map Sept. 25.

FEMA told U.S. District Judge Thomas Marten that it was withdrawing the letter because of an administrative error “pertaining to community notice” and would issue a new letter, restarting a six-month compliance period.

The proposed map, a version of which was unveiled last year, would designate property near two drainage ditches that run through the center and along the growing outskirts of Garden City as “special flood plain hazard areas.”

A lawsuit seeking to block the new map says the designation would affect more than 1,800 homes and 80 businesses, forcing property owners holding federally backed mortgages to buy special flood plain insurance _ and possibly see their property values decline.

City officials claim in their lawsuit that the ditches are about 50 years old and never have caused flooding damage or been designated as flood-prone.

The suit claims the map is based on inaccurate information and should be shelved while more detailed studies are conducted. Officials also claim FEMA didn’t give local government and residents adequate opportunity to dispute the flood map.

City Manager Matt Allen said he was glad to see FEMA’s decision to rescind the letter and cancel the Sept. 25 deadline, noting the effect was “more comprehensive than anything we would have achieved in a hearing on Thursday.”

But Allen said the city is concerned FEMA will simply reissue the same letter.

“If that’s the extent of it and it doesn’t extensively change any of our complaints … then we’ll be back to where we were pretty quickly,” Allen said.

FEMA spokesman Josh deBerge said “it would be speculative at this point” to say whether the map will change in the next six months.

In letters sent to the city last week, the federal agency stood behind the maps and the Sept. 25 deadline, saying the changes could not be appealed and that local government and residents were given adequate time. And while FEMA said it would consider performing more exact studies on the ditches, they suggested Garden City and Finney County do some of the work themselves.

Allen said the city government has considered providing some matching money for studies.

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