The Federal Emergency Management Agency is hosting outreach meetings this week to follow up on its most recent engineering review, which indicated nearly 12,000 structures in St. Johns County would see a change from their current flood zone designations.
FEMA’s proposed updates, released in May, are available for review via an online map viewer at bit.ly/FEMA_MapsSJC. They are based on the agency’s first floodplain study in St. Johns County since 2004.
James Schock, floodplain manager and plans examiner for the county, said the meetings are open to residents and business owners alike. He said county officials, FEMA representatives and insurance professionals would be on hand to answer questions regarding the proposed updates and what impacts there might be on flood insurance policies and rates. Information on the flood zone appeal process will also be available.
“The people who would benefit the most are those who have looked at the maps and checked their properties to see if they’re being moved into or out of a flood zone, particularly if they’re moving in,” he said, adding property lookups will be available at each session.
He said the meetings are mostly one-on-one to ensure information is as case-specific as possible.
Schock has said 10,299 structures are set to come out of special flood hazard zones while 1,686 are going into those zones.
The distinction matters because mortgage companies generally require homeowners, renters or businesses to get flood insurance when their property is located within a special flood hazard zone, normally through the National Flood Insurance Program.
The NFIP, administered by FEMA, is a federal program established in 1968 that enables property owners to buy flood insurance at reasonable rates in participating communities. In return, those communities conduct flood management measures designed to protect life and property from future flooding. St. Johns County has participated in the NFIP since 1973.
According to FEMA, special flood hazard areas are those subject to inundation by the 1 percent chance flood, also referred to as the base flood or 100-year flood, which has a 1 percent chance of being equaled or exceeded in any given year. Moderate flood hazard areas are those between the limits of the base flood and the 0.2 percent annual chance (or 500-year) flood. The areas of minimal flood hazard are those outside the special flood hazard areas and higher than the elevation of the 0.2 percent annual chance flood.
Many properties along the county’s coastal areas are being moved out of special flood hazard zones, which Schock attributed largely to high dune systems.
Maps show considerable chucks of developed land within St. Augustine Beach will be moving from special flood hazard areas to areas of minimal flood hazard. Other points up and down A1A Beach Boulevard show the same. Low-lying areas around Sawgrass and throughout southern Ponte Vedra Beach were not as lucky, however. Many pockets previously designated as areas of minimal flood hazard are now identified as being at high risk, especially near tributaries and bodies of water leading into the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve.
Doug Wiles, president of Herbie Wiles Insurance, said just because a designation has changed doesn’t necessarily mean the risk went away with it. He said 30 percent or more of claims come from structures outside special flood hazard zones.
“The entire county is in a flood hazard zone of one form or another,” he said. “The only thing that’s changed is someone’s opinion on the map.”
Wiles and his senior agent, Ralph Klein, said they expect the outreach meeting in St. Augustine on Wednesday to go quite differently from the two in Ponte Vedra Beach on Thursday, based on what they’ve determined from the maps.
They attributed the changes in the maps to changes in construction practices and surveying technology. The base flood elevation, which is the regulatory requirement for the elevation or flood-proofing of structures, has also changed in many areas.
Wiles and Klein said the difference between the base flood elevation and a structure’s elevation essentially determines the flood insurance premium. Structures within areas where minimum elevations have been lowered, for instance, could see lower premiums.
They said every case is ultimately going to be different in terms of what the real risk is and what effect any changes will have on any particular rate.
Wiles is recommending residents check the county’s map viewer to find their property’s status, go to floodsmart.gov for more information on the NFIP, and contact their insurance agents to review their options.
The new Flood Insurance Rate Maps are expected to be formally adopted by Dec. 31 and become effective for use with new and renewal policies on June 21, 2017, although those dates are subject to change.
FEMA and St. Johns County are hosting community outreach meetings regarding recently proposed floodplain map updates on the following dates:
■ Aug. 31, 4 to 7 p.m.: St. Johns County Permit Center, 4040 Lewis Speedway
■ Sept. 1, 10 a.m. to noon: Ponte Vedra Concert Hall, 1050 A1A North
■ Sept. 1, 4 to 7 p.m.: Ponte Vedra Concert Hall, 1050 A1A North