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New flood maps draw a crowd in Collier as property owners try to gauge impact

Patrick Riley
Naples Daily News

For Brian and Jan Smith, a small slice of their home could make a big difference.

The couple was among the more than 270 residents and property owners who flooded a large conference room Monday evening in the South Regional Public Library to find out what new draft flood maps could mean for them.

In the case of the Smiths, who have lived in Lely since 2015, the preliminary maps show that a slice of their home would now be in a zone where flood insurance would be required for residents with a federally backed mortgage..  

"It clips the back of our property," said Jan Smith.

The couple was never required to have flood insurance on their property. Now that may change.

To Brian Smith, having just part of the home in the higher-risk flood zone raises some questions.

"How could one little, one foot or corner of the structure be in a floodplain and the rest of the building not? Because water finds level so the whole structure should be the same ... ," he said. "The house isn’t tilted or anything. I mean, we’re in it every day.”

More on this topic:Will new flood maps affect your home? Public meetings in Collier may hold the answer

For the couple the informational meeting gave them some homework to do.

"We got some follow-up work to do," said Brian Smith. "We got to get that certificate of elevation, see what it says and then proceed from there. If we have a, you know, fighting chance for an appeal.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency initiated a coastal flood risk study for Southwest Florida counties, including Collier, in 2013. The Preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Maps will be used to determine flood insurance premiums and building requirements and show the potential extent and risks of flooding.

More:Outdated FEMA flood maps cost uninsured homeowners millions; North Florida hit the hardest

Collier's current maps took effect in May 2012. The draft maps focus mostly on the coastal area of the county, along the U.S. 41 corridor, both toward the Gulf and inland.

Before the maps take effect many more steps are required, including a 90-day appeal and comment period and a six-month adoption period. Typically, it takes between 18 and 24 months from the time the preliminary maps are released to when they take effect.

FEMA, city, county and state officials held a series of open houses for the public this week to inform them about the potential changes and offer one-on-one discussion with specialists and subject matter experts.

Residents and property owners gather at the South Regional Public Library Monday, March 2, 2020, to find out what new draft flood maps could mean for them.

Monday evening, residents, curious to find out how the new maps could affect them, patiently waited their turn to head to one of the eight computer stations where helpers would pull up their properties. Then residents were able to move throughout the room, from table to table, to discuss flood risk, flood insurance, appeals, mitigation options and the engineering behind the study with officials. 

“This (is) really a one-stop shop for anyone who wants to come in," said FEMA spokesman Danon Lucas.

The maps are updated because much of the data used to draw the previous maps is 30 to 40 years old, he said. Over time, not only are better tools and technology available, but development also changes the landscape, adding more impervious surfaces.

A computer shows flood maps during an open house Monday, March 2, 2020, at the South Regional Public Library.

“These studies are much more detailed than what we had before," Lucas said.

Even if homeowners suddenly find themselves in a lower-risk zone, FEMA recommends keeping flood insurance in Florida.

"Mother Nature doesn't read our flood maps," Lucas said. "It doesn't read lines on a flood map, so floodwaters go where floodwaters go."

While for the Smiths Monday evening brought to light some potential changes, for others things stayed the same.

More:Don't wait for a FEMA. Map out your own flood insurance plan | Editorial

And:New FEMA maps in Estero as of Dec. 7 could impact flood insurance rates

Water floods Pawley Avenue in Bonita Springs on Tuesday, August 29, 2017. The water rose to a few feet in certain places along the street, forcing many families to leave their homes.

Allie Delventhal's home in Verona Walk, where she has lived fulltime since 2015, is still in a higher-risk zone.

Delventhal said she figured it would likely continue to be in a higher-risk zone.

"Especially since we were mandatorily evacuated for (Hurricane) Irma, which turned out to be really not necessary," she said. "But we figured it would be the same, but it's just nice to find out."

Delventhal said the cost for flood insurance went up after Irma, from $400 to $600 a year, but it still seems worth it to her.

"If your house gets flooded and the other insurance that you have doesn't pay for anything, and then all your walls have to be replaced and everything, you know, it's worth it to us," she said.

Connect with the reporter at patrick.riley@naplesnews.com or on Twitter @PatJRiley.