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Homeowners learn flood strategies at open house

By Bryan Richardson

More than 40 residents living within the Blue River floodplain area attended an open house Wednesday to learn about how living within the flood area will affect them.

Senior planner Chad Bunger said there are approximately 200 single-family homes in the Blue River floodplain area.

He said approximately 100 homes were added to the area based on the new Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood map.

Most of these homes are around Northview Elementary in the northeast portion of the city, with the Dix subdivision addition and Hackberry area as the key focal points, Bunger said.

The open house provided residents a chance to learn more about the Silver Jackets program, which is handled through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide a strategy for reducing the risks associated with flooding and other natural hazards.

Bunger said the open house reassured him that the project was going in the right direction.

“People are clearly concerned about flood risk and the implications of flood insurance on their properties,” he said.

The Technical Advisory Group — city and county staff members as well as state and federal officials — is working on a 24-hour flood forecast map, a future conditions model for the basin and a floodplain management plan.

Brian Rast, Silver Jackets lead coordinator for Kansas, said the floodplain management plan is the most important aspect to him.

“It’s essentially a playbook that will show what are the next steps the counties and the city want to do to help address these flood risks,” he said.

Rast said the plan can be updated on an annual basis and could provide discounted flood insurance premiums by improving the area’s standing in the National Flood Insurance Program’s (NFIP) Community Rating System (CRS).

Rast said a draft of the management plan will be ready by December, and the flood forecast map is expected to be ready by March 2015.

Bunger said the advisory group will do the heavy lifting with the plan, but the public action workgroup made up of citizens will provide a feedback outlet for residents.

“We hope the end result is a plan that represents your needs to minimize flood risks,” he said.

Officials said the issue of homes being unexpectedly included in updated flood maps could be prevented through developing the future conditions floodplain map, a predictive model that shows the worst-case scenario.

Bunger said this would help the city do a better job of planning new developments.

“The flood maps, the moment we get them, are three to five to ten years old,” he said. “Manhattan doesn’t stop growing. We’re trying to break that cycle and be ahead of the development curve.”

Rast said soldiers and students are particular groups that are vulnerable to changes as a transient population who might be new to the community.

“Some of these folks may want to elevate their homes,” he said. “They may want to flood-proof their residences to help themselves be able to cope with flooding.”

Officials at the open house provided some strategies on flood mitigation.

Brian McNulty, operations project manager at Tuttle Creek Lake for the Corps of Engineers, suggested elevating utilities, whether they’re in the basement or on the ground next to a mobile home.

“For very little investment, that’s a flood-proofing measure that you can take that’s completely within your control, that lowers your risk from a flood standpoint,” McNulty said.

The goal with this technique is to get the utilities above the base flood elevation, a FEMA-computed elevation to which floodwater has a 1 percent chance of reaching annually.

Depending on the area, Bunger said the base flood elevation is anywhere from 1,016 to 1,020 feet above sea level.

Officials also explained how elevating an entire home could reduce flood insurance costs.

Flood insurance would cost $9,500 a year for a home that’s four feet below base flood elevation, $1,410 a year for a home at level, and $427 a year for a home at three feet above the level.

Bunger said flood insurance is based on the lowest enclosed floor.

This includes any basement, an area that Bunger said could be eliminated as a habitable space to reduce flood insurance.

Flood insurance isn’t required unless a person lives in a high-risk flood zone and has a mortgage, officials said.

Andy Megrail, natural hazards program management specialist for FEMA, said FEMA would require a homeowner to carry flood insurance for the next three years if it provided assistance.

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