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New FEMA Coastal Flood Maps Show Change In Risk, But Not From Sea Level Rise

People sit at a line of computers to learn about property risk
Kerry Sheridan/WUSF Public Media
FEMA is holding open houses to explain the new flood maps to homeowners.

Coastal flood zones across Florida are changing, and many property owners across Florida are seeing their flood risk go up – or down – for the first time in 40 years.

These Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maps recalculate the risk of what’s often called a 100-year flood.

Some homeowners find they’re on higher ground than they thought. Others find they’re lower, and will be required to get flood insurance if they haven't already.

a house encircled by yellow and green on the screen
Credit Kerry Sheridan / WUSF
One Sarasota neighborhood according to the old maps

Mark Vieira, a senior civil engineer at FEMA, said technology and aerial mapping have improved, hence the changes.

But the rising seas that are predicted in the coming years due to climate change are not a factor in these maps, which reflect current conditions only.

“Who knows how high the water is going to get sea level rise?” Vieira said.

“Our job is to show what the 1% chance annual flood is when we do the study, not what it's going to be in the future. Now, that means we may come back sometime and do a new study.”

Screen shows neighborhood mostly in blue with small bits of yellow
Credit Kerry Sheridan / WUSF
The same Sarasota neighborhood according to the new maps

Homeowners can appeal, but Vieira said that requires getting a survey and elevation certificate that shows a house is higher than it appears on the FEMA map.

People sit in chairs and wait at a FEMA meeting
Credit Kerry Sheridan/WUSF
FEMA says hundreds of people have been showing up at open houses across the region to understand the new coastal flood risks.

“An appeal is not ‘I don't like the map.’ You have to provide to us technical, scientific data, to say what we did incorrectly used the wrong assumptions, we use the wrong models, something to say that technically what we did was incorrect.”

Whether homeowners get good news or bad news, Vieira has the same advice:

“Get flood insurance. The reason I say that is Florida is flat. There's water everywhere.”

These maps are still preliminary, and changes won’t take effect for about 18 months, so homeowners have time to prepare.

Sarasota County staff will be available to answer questions about flood maps on March 12 from 4-7 p.m. at South Venice Civic Association, 720 Alligator Drive, Venice; and on March 19 from 4-7 p.m. at Suncoast Technical College, 4748 S. Beneva Road, Sarasota.

More information is available at FloodSmart.gov and scgov.net.

I cover health and K-12 education – two topics that have overlapped a lot since the pandemic began.
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