Rep. Johnson, local officials oppose new FEMA flood maps
ARENAC COUNTY — The Arenac County Board of Commissioners and the Au Gres City Council spoke out in opposition to preliminary flood plain maps being put together by the Federal Emergency Management Agency July 2, but had no decision on an overall next step.
The discussion with the commissioners spun out of Commissioner Mike Snyder’s complaint about unfunded mandates from higher up in the government. He indicated that the county building department is going to be responsible for enforcing the new flood plain program, but will not be getting any additional funding for it. He made his opposition to the new maps, which are still not finalized, very clear.
“The new maps will terrorize our community,” Snyder said. “They are vastly more inclusive than the current ones.”
Rep. Joel Johnson (R-Clare), who attended both meetings, shared the commissioners’ concerns. He said when FEMA produced new flood plain maps for Gladwin County a few years ago, they were also much more inclusive than the previous ones, and included land that should not have been listed.
“It was all done in 10-foot increments,” Johnson said. “This isn’t Wyoming or Utah — 10-foot increments in Michigan are crazy.”
Johnson speculated that FEMA is trying to expand the maps to help offset payouts elsewhere in the country, as he said it takes about 40 years to get back what is paid out in one year under the FEMA program. Any home in a flood plain that has a mortgage is required by the lender to have flood insurance.
He said FEMA and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality allowed Gladwin County and the municipalities there to pay for their own survey that used two-foot increments. That new map removed a sizable number of properties from the flood plain, Johnson said, and is currently awaiting final approval from FEMA. The work cost the county about $125,000 to survey every parcel there at about $16 a parcel, he said.
Snyder disliked the idea that the federal government would either force the county to enforce its new maps with no funding or require it to spend its own money to draw up a more accurate map. Johnson said a new survey was still an option depending on how extensive the new map is.
“I suggest looking at a map of wetlands and lowlands here,” Snyder replied. “We live in swampland, Joel, this is an important thing to us. We are horribly low here.”
Johnson said instead of FEMA, he wants to try and set up a state program to provide disaster relief for flooding, retaining a certain amount of money for emergencies and ceasing to collect above that point, similar what the state’s Farm Produce Insurance Authority does for its grain elevator fund. Snyder was wary of the legislature’s ability to keep its hands off of that money, however.
The Au Gres City Council also expressed its concerns about the preliminary maps and the impact they would have on home sales and current residents. City Manager Pat Killingbeck believed the half of the county near rivers and the Saginaw Bay shoreline is going to be negatively impacted by new maps, and wanted to know if Johnson could write a letter to the DEQ and FEMA on behalf of the city about its concerns.
“We have a lot of shoreline, and it’s not going to affect just Au Gres, but everyone along the route,” she said. “Maybe commissioners are aware that Gladwin did this, but we should encourage them to go this route.”
Councilman Keith Edmonds noted he will be in the flood plain even though the river would need to rise five feet to flood him. He added he was told by the Department of Natural Resources a few years of consistent rainfall would be needed to bring the river up even a couple feet.
“It’s almost like ‘I want to get more money so I’m going to do this, and most people don’t fight this so they’ll pay it,’” Edmonds said. “It’s going to affect house sales, because no one is going to want to buy a house they need to pay flood insurance on.”
Individual land owners can file a letter of map revision to have their property surveyed to have it pulled from a flood plain, Edmonds said. Killingbeck added she believed those houses that have already been individually surveyed through one of those letters and found to be outside the flood plain is still exempt.
The preliminary maps will be on display June 10 during an open house at Omer City Hall from 4-7 p.m. A meeting specifically for local officials will be held prior to the open house.