Brent Batten: Making a federal case of the flood map process

BRENT BATTEN

President Barack Obama has an approval rating of less than 50 percent.

Congress has one that is less than half of that.

If sentiments around the halls of county government are any indication, the people who work for them fare even worse.

Another change in the county’s ever-changing flood-zone maps brought on a discussion at Tuesday’s Collier County Commission meeting that turned into a gripe-fest about the federal flood insurance process, the Federal Emergency Management Agency that oversees it and federal bureaucracies in general.

Ironically enough, it was good news from FEMA that set off the complaints.

Earlier this month, FEMA announced it was removing en masse 10,000 properties from the flood zones on its maps. That means owners of those properties who have federally backed mortgages won’t be required to buy flood insurance, as they would have been included in the flood zone.

County Commissioner Tom Henning said owners who had already purchased insurance based on the earlier maps should be able to get a refund.

“It’s costing millions of dollars to our residents. That money should come back to Collier County,” Henning said.

But, when it comes to dealing with the federal government, nothing is easy.

“You can ask, but ...” snorted Commission Chairman Fred Coyle.

Henning turned to County Attorney Jeff Klatzkow for clarity.

The only thing Klatzkow made clear was his aversion to dealing with the federal government.

“I find the feds impossible to deal with on every level. They’re the most arrogant people I’ve ever dealt with,” he said.

A day later his opinion hadn’t moderated. “I’ve been with the county attorney’s office for 10 years,” he said Wednesday when asked to explain his attitude toward his fellow public servants. “If I pick up a phone and call a local government, I most always get somebody. If I call somebody with the state, it’s hit or miss. They’re usually pretty good. I’ve yet to have a good experience with the feds.”

Klatzkow said his beef goes beyond FEMA and includes HUD, the Federal Highway Administration and the Army Corps of Engineers, to name a few.

“(County Manager) Leo (Ochs) has direct report to his board. Some clerk up in Atlanta, who does she report to? Where’s the accountability there? They’re very different than local government. The farther away you are from your boss, I guess.”

Henning, only half-joking, said the array of acronyms peppering the flood map conversation makes it confusing.

“LOMA, LOMR, LIDAR. It’s all Greek to me,” Henning said.

“FEMA. It’s a different country sometimes,” answered Nick Casalanguida, the county’s growth management administrator, who expressed exasperation at dealing with the federal hierarchy. “They’ve been challenging at best. I’m not going to make any bones about it. I’ve been on several conference calls with them. I’m not having fun with federal highway or FEMA lately.”

Robert Wiley, the county staff member working as a liaison with FEMA to update the flood maps and keep residents informed of where they stand, said there is a process for the property owners removed from the flood zone to seek a full or partial refund.

They first need to go to the county’s website, where a list of all the affected addresses can be found. If on the list, the resident would need to take that information to their bank or mortgage holder to ask if they will waive the insurance requirement based on the property no longer being in a flood zone. If the answer is yes, the next step is to go to the insurance agent who sold the policy to see what sort of refund might be available.

Over the course of the next few months, more updates to the flood maps are possible, since the county is supplying FEMA with updated information about elevations in different areas.

More and more people will find themselves trying to navigate the bureaucracy.

Henning doubts it will be a smooth experience. “Typical federal government, they’re going to screw it up,” he said.

Connect with Brent Batten

at naplesnews.com/staff/brent_batten

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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