Almost every property owner in Dickinson might be required to buy flood insurance under proposed new federal flood plain maps, which city officials anticipate will be approved in the near future.
Under the proposed Federal Emergency Management Agency maps, which have been in the works since 2012, 97 percent of the city would be in the 100-year flood plain, said Zachary Meadows, Dickinson’s director of Community Development.
Under the current maps, which have been in place since the 1980s, only about 30 percent of the city is in the 100-year flood plain, a zone where the chance of flooding is 1 percent or more per year.
The flood plain maps still need to be finalized by FEMA, Meadows said. Afterward, the city council has six months to accept the maps. During that time, the city plans to convene public information meetings with residents, Meadows said.
“I think in the next few months we’ll get that final report,” Meadows said.
Federal rules require property owners to have flood insurance if they have a federally backed mortgage, and if a building is in an area with a high risk of flooding, which is defined as the 100-year flood plain.
The average cost of a flood insurance policy through the National Flood Insurance Program is $707 per year. Premiums can be much higher to insure property near the coast, however.
Some Dickinson residents might be upset by the requirement to buy flood insurance, Meadows said.
About 2,300 Dickinson properties had flood insurance policies as of February 2018, according to FEMA data. Some 6,648 homeowners applied for FEMA assistance in Dickinson after Harvey’s floods last August. In all, more than 20,000 properties were flooded.
Meadows also said the city may discuss whether to change its own building regulations to require higher building standards within the flood plain, a change that could add to the costs of rebuilding and future construction in the city.
But signs are starting to appear that those discussions will begin, as long-term recovery plans take place, and as cities come to terms with their new FEMA maps.
In League City, staff members plan to present flood plain information to the city council on Tuesday during a workshop meeting, said city engineer Chris Sims.
The council won’t be voting on changes to flood plain construction, but officials will be presented options about what could change, Sims said. Current rules in League City require new construction to start at 18 inches above the base flood elevation, Sims said.
“We’re looking at if that still makes sense for the city, and what changes do we need to make,” Sims said. Based on what the city council says this week, Sims’ office could have a proposal in front of the city council to vote on by next month, he said
There are flood zone map changes in League City, Sims said, though he didn’t know what percentage of the city would be expanded into the 100-year zone.
“Depending on what way the city council wants to go, there could be a wide swath,” he said.
Dickinson and League City aren’t the only Harvey-affected communities to face decisions about their flood plain construction regulations.
The Houston City Council approved an overhaul of its floodplain regulations in April, requiring new homes to be built 2 feet above the flood plain on the 500-year flood plain. The new rule passed by a 9-7 margin and was criticized by dissenters as an overreach that didn’t fully address that city’s flooding problems.
Meadows and Sims cited their cities’ smaller planning staffs, and less pressurized political climates, as reasons why similar regulations are taking longer to develop locally. Meanwhile, officials in another city say the immediate short-term recovery is taking priority over long-term regulation planning.
In Friendswood, which is immediately adjacent to Houston, a city spokesman said officials haven’t begun planning changes to flood plain regulations. Spokesman Jeffrey Newpher said the city won’t speculate on what the approval of FEMA’s flood maps would mean for future development.
“No one is crying to change the rules right now,” Newpher said.
Still, the city has hired a consultant to help manage hazard mitigation programs, including elevation and reconstruction projects. The city will hold an informational meeting with homeowners whose homes were damaged by floods on Tuesday. The mitigation consultant will be at that meeting, he said.