Water World

Climate change gets real as residents contemplate new FEMA flood maps—and the prospect of buying more homeowners insurance

By Krys Cail

This month’s Fourth-Friday Issues Huddle was titled “New FEMA Flood Threat Maps.” It was held the same week as an information Open House sponsored by the Tompkins County Office of Planning and Sustainability. Some of our attendees had been to one of the two open house events, and had the opportunity to see how their own properties were impacted by the changes in the lines for100-year and 500-year flood threats. They learned more about how most banks require those with mortgages in those districts to purchase flood insurance annually, which can be expensive.

Some who attended the Issues Huddle don’t even live in the areas that will be directly impacted by a higher risk of flooding. They were very interested in the economic and social changes that might be spurred by having large parts of residential neighborhoods shouldering a new housing cost on an ongoing basis. Will this spur further problems with housing affordability in an already strained market? Will it make housing in other areas more expensive, too?

We also discussed the funds are available for physical flood mitigation structures.An attendee reported that the City of Ithaca has applied for a grant, and it was approved by the state, but the 25 percent local match in funding was not yet available.

The topic is a difficult one to address in a place like New York State, where home rule means that land use decisions made upstream do not really take into consideration increased flood risks in downstream communities. Storm water is a greater challenge to us all as extreme weather events increase in frequency due to climate change. There was mention of the forward-thinking nature of the City of Ithaca’s Storm Water Fee structure. It allows for assessing some costs to the nonprofit educational institutions, which are otherwise tax-exempt.

We concluded that there’s a lot to learn about this emerging issue, and that more study maybe needed. There will be a lot of talk among voters in affected areas around the county as the need for flood insurance sinks in—there’s nothing like a new bill to get folks’ attention. Those running campaigns on the local level best be prepared to have policy plans of some sort to help with this suddenly urgent issue.

Posted in Tompkins County.