Skepticism washed through the Spokane Valley City Hall last week when about 60 people turned out to learn how new flood plain maps may affect them.
The maps determine how and where structures may be built, as well as who needs federal flood insurance and how much it costs.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is proposing new maps for the Chester Creek, Argonne and Forker Draw drainages in Spokane Valley and unincorporated Spokane County.
The Chester Creek map reflects substantial flood plain reductions businessman Dick Behm won in two appeals of previous proposals.
Many property owners in the Chester Creek area will benefit, but the maps cut both ways in all three areas.
Federal officials faced an uphill battle to convince residents that water could rush downhill and flood their homes in the three designated flood plains.
“Where is all this water going to come from?” asked Dave Voelker, who lives on Raymond Road, near the intersection of 26th Avenue and Dishman-Mica Road. “It’s going to have to start raining 40 days and 40 nights to flood this area.”
Consultant Ray Walton, who helped develop new Chester Creek flood plain maps for FEMA, said a big storm in 1997 came close.
A borrow pit at 28th and Dishman-Mica holds a lot of runoff, but was nearly overwhelmed that year, Walton said.
He showed a photo of the brimming pit, but Jim Morrison, who is trying to replace a mobile home at 26th and Dishman-Mica, was unconvinced.
“I haven’t had water come anywhere near my place, and I don’t care what you guys say about 1997,” Morrison said.
Gary Forney, 10721 E. 26th, didn’t like the answer to his question either. He wanted to know why he has to buy flood insurance and his neighbors don’t.
“I feel there’s some kind of discrimination going on,” Forney said. “This is costing me thousands of dollars over the years. … How can I get to where my neighbors are?”
The answer was that some mortgage holders require flood insurance, others don’t. Properties in designated flood plains are legally required to have insurance only for federally backed or regulated mortgages.
Forney said his bank required him to get flood insurance for a conventional home equity loan with no federal connection.
Federal statistics suggest Forney’s neighbors are hardly the only ones who take a pass on flood insurance.
According to FEMA, only 274 policies have been sold in unincorporated portions of Spokane County since May 1988. Perhaps 50 of those are in Spokane Valley, which incorporated in 2003 and has logged only five policies since April 2004, officials said.
Another puzzle for Forney was why his flood insurance cost about $1,500 last year and was supposed to go to $1,621 this year – until he found another agent would write the policy for $721.
Michael Riedy, a FEMA flood plain management specialist, said the answer to that question could be expensive or rewarding.
Forney could seek a refund for the past two years if he was overcharged, Riedy said. But he said Forney might discover his new agent made a mistake.
Flood insurance premiums are based on how far a building is above or below the “base flood elevation” – the level of flooding expected to occur once in a century.
Residential rates this year range from $201 to $6,061 per $100,000 of property value.
Riedy said owners may take steps to “grandfather” their existing rates if the new flood plain maps would lead to higher rates. But they can’t take advantage of lower rates or drop any bank-required flood insurance until the maps are adopted, which isn’t expected until next September.
An informal comparison of the new and old maps indicates relatively few structures may be added to the Chester Creek, Argonne and Forker Draw flood plains.
Marianne Barrentine, environmental programs manager in the Spokane County Engineering Division, counted eight more structures in the Argonne drainage, six in the Chester Creek area and none in the Forker Draw.
Barrentine said many properties in the Chester Creek drainage will have their base flood elevations significantly reduced, and 131 apparently will be removed entirely from the flood plain. Twenty will be added.
In the Argonne drainage, 21 parcels will be removed and 25 will be added, according to Barrentine’s unofficial count.
She found two additions to the Forker Draw flood zone and no removal.
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