Floodplain Maps Present New Insurance Challenge

Dennis Evanosky  According to FEMA, the dike and tide gate shown here between Brittany Landing Harbor and Brittany Landing Bay — about 100 yards west of the Harbor Bay Club — is not engineered to meet flood-protection standards.

Floodplain Maps Present New Insurance Challenge

Harbor Bay resident explores problem now facing homeowners citywide

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recently released new floodplain maps that propose to place nearly 2,000 Alameda homes in a mapped 100-year floodplain for the first time.

A 100-year floodplain is the area with a 1 percent or greater chance of flooding each year based on existing conditions. Several hundred of the impacted homes are in the Harbor Bay Isle Community. Harbor Bay Isle has been working with George Kay, the Harbor Bay Community executive director, to understand the situation and to engage with the city and others on strategies.  

The first steps are to understand our flood risk, the impacts of new mapping and what can be done to improve the situation. After addressing flood-safety concerns, the financial impact on homeowners must be understood. Homeowners with federally backed loans will be required to have flood insurance. The insurance is only available from FEMA, typically with an insurance agent as a broker. For homes without federally backed loans, a real estate impact is probable. This column summarizes what we currently know.

If any part of your yard was mapped in the FEMA-determined 100-year floodplain, you should have received a letter from the city last October.  For many people contacted, just small corners of their lots were involved. Higher flood ratings for a building are only applied if the land directly touching the building is in the 100-year floodplain. 

In addition, many more homes are now in a mapped 500-year floodplain for the first time. The 500-year floodplain has a 0.2 percent or greater chance of flooding each year based on existing conditions. With the expected sea-level rise, everyone on Harbor Bay Isle will see an increasing flood probability in the coming decades.

The city has posted the preliminary FEMA maps for all of Alameda at http://alamedaca.gov/permits/news/2015/09/29/new-FEMA-maps. These are easily found by Googling “Alameda FEMA.” Large printed versions are available for viewing in the Harbor Bay Community office has large printed maps available for viewing. Using Google Earth will give residents a rough idea of land elevations. Typically, Google Earth elevations below 11 feet correlate with the 100-year floodplain.

FEMA recommends that homeowners in the proposed 100-year floodplain buy flood insurance soon. Since new floodplains are not yet in effect, rates will be in the $400-$500 per year range for maximum coverage ($250,000 structural and $100,000 contents) or less expensive for lower coverage. This cost can rise into to multiple thousands for homeowners who delay in purchasing flood insurance once the revised floodplains go into effect.  FEMA expects this to happen around the end of the year. If you buy insurance now and maintain coverage, the current, lower-risk flood zone may be grandfathered forward for some number of years depending upon what happens in Congress.

According to FEMA, most of the Harbor Bay homes are in the floodplain because of their low elevation. In addition the dike and tide gate between Brittany Landing, the Harbor and Brittany Landing, the Bay — about a hundred yards west of the Harbor Bay Club — is not engineered to FEMA flood protection standards. The combination of a high tide and large storm surge would “overtop” the dike, flooding the lagoons, Robert Davey Jr Drive and nearby homes. 

One complication is that other hydrologist studies indicate that the flooding risk is less that the FEMA maps indicate. Very little of Bay Farm Island, including none of the Community of Harbor Bay, would be in the 100-year floodplain. Based on these studies, the city is filing an appeal to the proposed FEMA maps.

Whatever happens with the near-term with the FEMA maps, the low elevation of Bay Farm Island puts us at risk if sea levels continue to rise as projected the rest of this century. We will need to invest in strengthening the shoreline.

The Harbor Bay Community plans to continue collaborating with the city on ways mitigating flood risks and reducing the insurance requirements and costs. If you’d like to contribute and have expertise in dike construction, grant procurement, or multiple municipality project coordination, please contact the Harbor Bay Community at 865-3363.

Alameda Sun readers should encourage the City Council to appropriately prioritize this risk to our homes and property values. 

Paul Beusterien is the vice president of Harbor Bay Community of Harbor Bay Owners Association.