Other Adirondack counties to follow
By Zachary Matson
New federal flood zone maps for Clinton County took effect earlier this month, marking the first update to flood insurance maps in the Adirondacks in 20 years and the start of a wave of new maps expected in coming years.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which sets flood zones across the country used in insurance, is working on map updates in counties across the North Country. Many flood zone maps across the state haven’t been updated in years, and federal planners hope to digitize more of the maps.
Preliminary flood maps, an important milestone in the mapping process that gives local governments and residents a first look at new maps and an opportunity to appeal inclusion in flood zones, are expected to be released in Washington County within weeks.
Essex, Fulton, Saratoga and Warren counties could all see the release of preliminary flood maps sometime next year, according to Thomas Song, FEMA’s acting regional flood insurance liaison. Projects in Franklin, St. Lawrence, Oneida and Herkimer counties are further behind. Lewis and Hamilton counties are the only Adirondack counties without active flood zone studies in progress.
“Projects don’t happen in a black box,” Song said. “We ask communities to partner with us.”
The slow-moving mapping process can take years to come to fruition. Preliminary maps for Clinton County were released in 2021, adding around 1,000 parcels to the county’s flood zones.
Some residents and local governments successfully petitioned to be removed from the maps, while others remained. The town of Black Brook appealed inclusion of parcels around Silver Lake.
“The town board’s opinion was that it was another financial burden on people to have to purchase flood insurance,” said Black Brook Supervisor Jon Douglass. “With the elevation in some of the lots, it just wasn’t even practical that they would ever possibly flood.”
FEMA granted the appeal but rebuffed one around Fern Lake, Douglass said.
The flood zone maps established by FEMA directly influences costs to property owners: properties within the FEMA flood zones must purchase flood insurance to qualify for assistance under the National Flood Insurance Program.
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The mapping process starts with a discovery phase, where FEMA officials meet with local governments to learn about community flood risk. After extensive analysis and desktop mapping, FEMA develops preliminary maps, hosting various public meetings along the way.
Those maps are released to communities, setting off an appeal period. FEMA provides notice to communities when maps are finalized and six months later they go into effect.
Some local officials said the slow process and intermittent contact with FEMA makes it hard to follow. The COVID-19 pandemic moved most of Clinton County public meetings online. Municipalities must adopt certain flood zone ordinances to participate in the national program.
“If we don’t follow through with it, people aren’t covered,” Douglass said. “I think everything should be reviewed, but I don’t think there has been a lot of change in our community.”
Kelley Tucker, executive director of the Ausable River Association, said she remembered providing feedback on map development in Clinton and Essex counties around three years ago but hasn’t heard any updates since. Tucker said FEMA does an expert job developing the maps but that local knowledge is critical to understanding any area’s flood risk.
“They do all the right things, the challenge is they don’t live here, they are starting from scratch,” Tucker said.
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