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Friday, May 29, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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New maps on flood plains

Property owners urged to check for changes

Spokane Valley businessman Dick Behm is on the verge of a second improbable victory against the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“It’s always nice to win,” said Behm, who’s been battling the agency’s flood plain designations for more than a decade.

The agency finally conceded earlier this month that Chester Creek isn’t going to flood Behm’s plastic-container warehouse at 321 S. Dishman Road.

A handful of other businesses and scores of houses in the area also are safe, according to a new flood plain map FEMA has just released for public review.

A Chester Creek flood zone that once extended as far north as Sprague Avenue now stops about Eighth Avenue.

Farther south, most of the Kokomo subdivision also now is expected to remain unflooded even during the sort of weather that ordinarily comes only once in a century.

Formal adoption of the map, perhaps next summer, would keep many property owners from being pressured by lenders to obtain costly federal flood insurance – under a program administered by FEMA.

However, some property owners in unincorporated portions of Spokane County may find FEMA’s latest map adjustments put them inside designated flood plains.

Public officials recommend people check the new maps carefully. Spokane Valley officials especially advised residents in the Forker Draw and Argonne Creek drainages to consult maps published on the city Web site.

Deanna Griffith, an administrative assistant in the Community Development Department, said FEMA officials have told the city they intend to revise the Forker Draw map in a way that would prevent appeals in one area.

A fan-shaped area south of the draw would be designated an “alluvial fan,” an area where flooding is so unpredictable that individual properties can’t be declared safe as they might be elsewhere in a flood plain.

Jane Anderson, a Spokane County environmental programs engineer, said county officials hadn’t had time to review the new maps thoroughly, but there may have been some minor changes in the Hangman Creek area to correct the location of streams.

She said the maps may be reviewed at the county Department of Engineering and Roads office next to the county courthouse, or at a yet unscheduled public meeting in November or December. For instructions on how to view the maps over the Internet, call 477-3600.

After the public meeting, Griffith said, public officials will accept formal appeals of the underlying data for 90 days, she said.

If there are no appeals, FEMA might adopt the new maps in six months or so, Griffith estimated.

If the flood plain designations are correct, federal flood insurance may be a good deal. If not, property owners may spend hundreds of dollars a year needlessly.

Behm estimated that flood insurance might cost around $1,000 a year on a $150,000 house and $1,500 to $2,000 on a business.

“I would assume it’s a savings of millions of dollars in flood insurance and property values,” Behm said.

Being in a flood plain drives down property values and makes bankers wary about lending money, he said. “You can’t remodel, you can’t add on, you can’t rebuild.”

FEMA greatly expanded the Chester Creek flood plain boundaries in the 1990s, taking in Behm’s business and moving into the Kokomo subdivision. Now, Behm said, the flood plain appears to have been restored nearly to its original boundaries.

“I’m happy with the results now,” he said. “I don’t see anything wrong with this one now, but I haven’t had a chance to have an expert go over it.”

Although he lives on high ground in the Ponderosa area, Behm was pleased that most of Kokomo has been removed from the flood zone.

Some of the change was achieved in 2006, as a result of the appeal Behm filed in October 2000 with support from county officials and, later, the city of Spokane Valley.

“I had lots of help,” he said. “Lots of people lent me their expertise. I’m not that smart.”

Behm continued to appeal in 2006 when FEMA’s calculations still showed the potential for 2 1/2 to 3 feet of floodwater at Third Avenue.

“Anybody who’s lived here all his life knows that’s not possible because there is no source for that kind of water,” Behm said.

He said FEMA didn’t adequately consider Spokane Valley’s highly permeable soils, new drainage swales or a borrow pit at 28th Avenue and Dishman-Mica Road that serves as a runoff lagoon.

A letter Behm received earlier this month from FEMA said a consulting firm recently revised its Chester Creek study to include “a more rigorous analysis of the effects of dry wells.”

“I’ve got to give them credit,” Behm said. “They took all the comments and took them seriously and went back and adjusted it.”

To view the new maps for incorporated and unincorporated areas in the Spokane Valley or to read the accompanying report, go to Spokane Valley’s Web site: www.spokanevalley.org.

Copies also are available in Suite 106 at Spokane Valley City Hall, 11707 E. Sprague Ave.

Comments of a nontechnical nature may be made at City Hall through Oct. 28, or they may be sent directly to FEMA through Oct. 30.

Comments to FEMA should be addressed to: FEMA Region X, Attn. Debi Heiden, 710 Second Ave., Suite 1160, Seattle, WA 98104.

John Craig may be contacted at johnc@spokesman.com.

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