FEMA Seeks to Have Kansas Flood Map Suit Dismissed

October 28, 2009

Almost two months after federal officials stopped a plan to designate portions of downtown and eastern Garden City, Kan., as flood-prone, the two sides are still fighting it out in court.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has asked a federal judge in Wichita to dismiss Garden City’s legal challenge of a proposed flood plain map. Its attorneys argued in court documents that because the plan didn’t go through and has yet to be resubmitted, the lingering case serves no purpose and should be tossed out.

Attorneys for Garden City, Finney County and three landowners have refused to withdraw the lawsuit themselves. They said they want to keep their options open should the new map have the same problems that the previous one did.

“We have raised these concerns and issues and they simply won’t address them and we think the court should take a look at it,” said attorney David Traster.

The plaintiffs filed suit in August, seeking an injunction to prevent FEMA from implementing a new flood plain map that would have designated property near two drainage ditches that run through the center and along the outskirts of Garden City as “special flood plain hazard areas.”

The suit said 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 lead to declining property values.

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

Days before a court hearing on the injunction, FEMA in early September withdrew the proposal over a technicality. It said it would restart the compliance process, eventually giving the city 90 days to contest the proposed changes and giving property owners an additional six months to buy flood insurance and prepare for the changes.

FEMA has not yet restarted that process and agency spokesman Josh deBerge said officials haven’t determined when they will.

Agency attorneys said in their court filing that they’ve asked the plaintiffs to withdraw their litigation because the previous map has been withdrawn. They also argue that the lawsuit is premature because the new process will have another series of ways to challenge the map’s changes.

However, the filing makes clear that FEMA doesn’t plan to change its determination that the ditches are a flood hazard and will be part of the map, when it is resubmitted.

“The city or county must provide information that proves otherwise,” deBerge said.

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