Floodplain remapping affects properties throughout PA
Kim Shindle
Feb 23, 2011
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Floodplain remapping is 85 percent complete throughout Pennsylvania, according to Dave Bollinger, mitigation outreach coordinator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Region III, in Philadelphia.

The federal government mapped floodplains in the early ’70s to allow property owners to purchase flood insurance as protection against flood losses, while requiring state and local governments to enforce floodplain management regulations to help reduce future flood damages.

Remapping started in 2003 and concentrated in the most densely populated areas. “We started in those areas because that’s where the greatest risk and most up-to-date topography is,” Bollinger said. “Most of the rural counties are close to being done and some of those left to be completed are in the northeast portion of the state.” Floodplain maps that have been approved are available online.  Areas that are undergoing the remapping process are available on a separate website.

As the remapping is approved, many Realtors® have found that properties that weren’t in the high-risk floodplain now fall into that area and require flood insurance.

Centre County Realtor® Lorraine Spock said she had a listing that previously wasn’t in the floodplain when it sold several years ago but with the recent remapping it’s now in the floodplain.

“The property isn’t moving at all,” she said. “Most buyers don’t want the extra cost of purchasing flood insurance, which the bank requires. It’s an expense that they weren’t counting on.”

Bollinger said when FEMA begins the remapping, it invites local elected officials to meet with FEMA to review the mapping process. Local officials are asked to review the map to ensure that properties are identified correctly; they need to review their local ordinances that govern floodplains and work with the county to contact property owners who might be impacted by changes to the maps.

Once the changes are approved, lenders are required to review their loans, determine who needs flood insurance and notify homeowners.

Bollinger said what many homeowners don’t realize is that if their property moves from a low-risk to a high-risk zone, they are able to purchase flood insurance at the lower rate before the new mapping takes effect. A grandfather clause allows them to keep that rate throughout the time they keep the flood insurance policy in force. In fact, Bollinger said some Realtors® may not know that this grandfathered rate can pass to a new property owner if the house is sold. “Many people don’t realize that the policy stays with the house, not the owner,” he said.

If a property falls into a high-risk zone after the remapping, property owners may request a Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA) to FEMA. The appeal process requires homeowners to have a surveyor or engineer review the property and there are no guarantees, Bollinger said, but it is an option.

State College Realtor® Steven Bodner has a client who is currently disputing the change because the transaction won’t close if the property is in a high-risk zone. “The property owner had no notification that his house was now in a high-risk zone,” Bodner said. “Unfortunately this could really impact this sale because the buyer has a USDA loan and they won’t issue loans to properties in floodplains.

“It’s really frustrating because the entire transaction is in limbo,” he added. “In the meantime, interest rates are creeping up and we’re hoping it will work out.”

The floodplain remapping often shifts the risk area so some properties move into the high-risk zone and others move out, Bollinger explained. “Our technology has improved and we can more accurately understand and show what could happen given the weather, the development and other conditions in areas that may flood. Weather is cyclical and every 30 years we see another cycle,” Bollinger added.