From The Chaffee County Times (Mason Miller):
Representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Chaffee County and the town of Buena Vista were in attendance April 27 for an open house meeting and presentation on the recently completed preliminary Flood Insurance Study and its accompanying Draft Flood Insurance Rate Maps.
The maps includes base flood information and areas subject to significant flood hazards along Cottonwood Creek within Chaffee County and the town of Buena Vista.
Before the presentation, representatives from FEMA and CWCB met with residents to go over impacts the FIRM and FIS will have on property owners.
During the presentation, Thuy Patton with CWCB said the map updates had been ongoing for 7 years and said the primary focus of the updates was to digitize the maps and provide information on flood risks.
She said the map updates were currently in the post-preliminary processing phase and said the town and county’s 90-day appeal period had begun March 10, noting it would be around another year before the FIRM and FIS became effective, following a 6-month compliance period after the 90-day appeal window. Town administrator Brandy Reitter said the compliance period was required for the Buena Vista board of trustees to pass and adopt an ordinance approving the FIRM.
During the appeal period, Patton said residents will need scientific evidence proving FEMA’s original flood hazard determinations were technically or scientifically incorrect.
“With our new studies and hydrology, we’ve been able to put that on a map so you can know what the (flood) risks are,” Patton said about the map updates and said the FIRM and FIS allows for current and future residents to assess flood risks on their property.
During the question and answer portion of the meeting, residents expressed frustration over the amount of time left in the 90-day appeal period and the fact that town and county administration were not more proactive in informing residents sooner about the potential impacts the studies will have on their properties.
“Our 90 days is halfway over and we’re just getting good information,” one resident said.
While there were several questions submitted throughout the meeting, organizers did not ask residents to state their name or write their name on question cards, so question askers remained anonymous.
“This is probably a lesson for us,” Diana Herrera with FEMA said. “We need to look at the timing of our community meetings and (consider) moving those up.”
While going over information on flood insurance rates through the National Flood Insurance Program residents asked why property owners in the high risk flood areas would be paying the same rates as residents in places like New Orleans and Houston, some of which are below sea level. Herrera said it was a national rate and said the potential for flooding was the same.
“This area is nothing like Houston, yet we’ll be paying the same rate?” one resident asked, noting places like Houston and New Orleans flood more frequently and more significantly than Buena Vista. Herrera said depending on the FIS and FIRM, residents may pay the same rates as those areas.
In regards to if residents would be able to rebuild or build on a floodway or floodplain, Jamie Prochno with CWCB said residents would be able to rebuild on the same footprint as the previous structure if flooding was to happen, but said if residents want to expand or build within a floodplain or floodway, they would need to work with local government to obtain a permit.
“There’s nothing that says you can’t build in a floodplain. However, you have to get a permit from your local government, meet all those standards, meet any local standards that could be higher than our state standards,” Prochno said. “Generally in a floodplain that’s going to be much simpler because you just have to build your structure high enough … if it’s in a floodway, it’s a little more difficult because that’s a hazardous area, you have to show that there’s no rise to the base flood elevation. Keep in mind, these aren’t just lines on a map, that water has to go somewhere.”
Doering said in March that according to the maps, there are 276 residents inside of Buena Vista town limits affected by the floodways or floodplains. He said the majority of those residents are on the east side of the railroad, along Cottonwood Creek.