Political Furor Arises Over Proposed SW Idaho Flood Map

November 20, 2006

Pending expansion of maps describing potential flooding in southwestern Idaho towns could cost residents and business owners millions in additional insurance, officials trying to boost the region’s economy say.

A new survey of areas of Nampa and Caldwell where they’re bisected by Indian Creek shows the current 100-year floodplain isn’t wide enough, said Scott VanHoff, state coordinator for the National Flood Insurance Program.

The 100-year floodplain is often used as a benchmark to gauge flooding risk to homes near waterways.

With Caldwell in an ambitious downtown redevelopment and increasing residential growth along Nampa’s stretch of Indian Creek, some officials are watching the new survey warily. Though the new description of the flood zone likely won’t be completed until 2007, some here are already saying it’s inaccurate and are planning a challenge.

“I think we’ll find a way out of this,” Dennis Cannon, economic development coordinator for the city of Caldwell, told the Idaho Press-Tribune.

Nampa Economic Development Director Cliff Long said one affordable housing project in which his city is a partner has been put on hold until the implications of flood plain designation are resolved.

Should the flood plain be expanded, it could mean more property owners who fall within the area will be forced to buy flood insurance. On average, it costs about $400 a year for a home, VanHoff said.

Last spring, the first winter of healthy mountain snowfalls in years swelled Idaho’s rivers, causing fears of flooding and sparking political squabbles.

In northern Idaho, winter wheat farmers saw crops inundated by the rising Kootenai River, subdivision streets south of tony Sun Valley became an impromptu path for the Big Wood River, and residents of Eagle, Idaho, threatened to oust a local homeowner association’s board in a dispute that arose from potential flooding on the Boise River.

In Nampa and Caldwell, VanHoff said any new buildings in a potentially expanded floodplain would have to be built to withstand a 100-year flood. That might mean the building costs are slightly higher, though he downplayed the potential for new regulations to put a dent in municipalities’ aggressive expansion plans.

“It’s not that tough,” he said, adding many structures are inside the flood plain in Boise and are built to survive rising waters. “It just takes a little imagination.”

Mark Carey, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s chief of flood plain management, said maps must reflect the best available science. Despite any pressure from economic development officials that may be building against yet-to-be-released maps, Carey said it is a “technical exercise” that should be removed from the forces of political whimsy.

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.