Nicole Antonucci/Recorder staff Mark Hoffman of Fonda learns how FEMA flood maps have changed, during Tuesday's open house at the Montgomery County Annex Building on Park Street.
By NICOLE ANTONUCCI
FONDA -- Changes in the National Flood Insurance Program could hike premiums for Montgomery County residents.
At an open house Tuesday at the county annex building on Park Street, officials from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Federal Emergency Management Agency sat with residents to discuss changes to Montgomery County's preliminary Digital Flood Insurance Rate Map and the insurance program, which are expected to be finalized in 2015.
"Today is an open house meeting to let people understand what the new maps indicate, and give them a chance to look at what the potential impacts might be, whether they are mapped in the flood hazard area or not," Alan Springett, a FEMA engineer, said.
It was also a chance to learn how to read the maps, get information about building standards, and discuss flood mitigation efforts.
The local map project is part of a nationwide effort to update flood hazard maps. County residents and businesses will be able to make more informed decisions by having up-to-date, reliable, Internet-accessible information about their flood risk on a property-by-property basis.
The maps will also help local officials, engineers, planners and others determine where and how new structures and developments should be built to maximize safety.
Springett said the new maps are based on updates made in 2006, so not much is different, except that the maps have become digital and can be viewed with more detail on a county-wide level.
"We already know we are in a flood plain," he said. "The residents in Fonda are all too aware they are in a flood plain. Canajoharie knows they are in a flood plain. So this area didn't change much in that regard."
The biggest impact to county residents is costs for flood insurance due to changes in the program. Springett said the area has a heavier percentage of older structures that were subsidized by the previous insurance program, and as a result, may see higher premiums.
"Congress has removed many of the subsidies, so if you are a business owner or have a second home, those subsidies are gone," he said. "If you are a primary owner, they are removing subsidies as well, but at a slower rate. That means premiums are going to increase."
Newer structures may not be impacted because they were built to the newer standards and have a lower level of risk, he said.
Several residents attended the open house to find out whether they were now in a flood hazard area and what their options are. Options could include elevating their structures, moving out of the flood plain, or simply getting flood insurance.
For those where flood hazards increased, insurance rates may increase to reflect the level of risk. Those who saw a decrease in flood risk, flood insurance may be obtained at a lower rate. Those with no change may see no change in their insurance, but it is advised that they talk with an agent to take steps to protect their property, according to the information pamphlets that were available.
Canajoharie Supervisor Herb Allen was among those sitting with DEC and FEMA officials to find out how the town's flood plains had changed. He said he plans to take the information back to his council and discuss how to proceed.
"I picked up sheets for the planning board and the code enforcement officer since they will have to deal with this," Allen said. "We have some small properties in the village of Ames that were impacted. I also found out the highway garage is in the flood plain."
Minden Supervisor Cheryl Reese was also in attendance.
"What is a main concern for me is that people really need to know if they are part of these maps because, if you are, you are required to have flood insurance," Reese said. "If you don't know whether you are in the flood zone and you don't have flood insurance, my understanding is, the mortgage companies can buy it for you and then those costs can be astronomical."
Reese said she plans to set up a computer station at the town hall to allow residents to view the online maps.
Any member of the public can access the mapping system online at www.rampp-team.com/ny.htm.