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Federal Flood Maps Left New York Unprepared for Sandy—and FEMA Knew It

The agency ignored state and city officials’ appeals to update the maps with better data until it was too late.

Patrice and Philip Morgan had to rebuild much of their home -- and the bungalow they also own next door -- after Hurricane Sandy. When they bought the house, FEMA's flood maps did not show it as being at high risk for flooding. (Karsten Moran for ProPublica)

This story was co-published with WNYC Radio.

When Patrice and Philip Morgan bought a house near the ocean in Brooklyn, they were not particularly worried about the threat of flooding.

Federal maps showed their home was outside the area at a high risk of flood damage. For that reason, the government did not require them to buy flood insurance, a cost imposed on neighbors on more vulnerable blocks.

Even so, the couple decided to raise their house four feet to protect their basement from the effects of heavy rain storms.

“We thought we might have a foot or two of water,” Patrice said, “so we put a sump pump in to avoid any small issues.”

But the maps drawn up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency were wrong. And government officials knew it.

According to documents and interviews, state, local and federal officials had been aware for years that the crucial maps of flood risks were inaccurate; some feared they understated the dangers in New York City’s low-lying areas.

The flaws in the maps had significant impact. Developers relied on FEMA’s assessment of risks when they built new homes near the water. And homeowners and businesses made crucial decisions about where to buy or lease property on the assurance that they were outside of the high-risk zones.

Thousands of the buildings incorrectly identified as outside the flood zone were damaged when seawater surged ashore as Hurricane Sandy made landfall on Oct. 29, 2012.

State and city officials had been asking FEMA for years to revise the maps with technology and modeling methods that didn’t exist when they were first drawn in the 1980s. William S. Nechamen, New York State’s floodplain chief, warned FEMA in a 2005 letter that the failure to do so “will lead to higher than necessary flood damages and more expenses placed on individuals and on FEMA.”

Yet, despite Nechamen’s warning, FEMA missed chances to make changes that could have protected city dwellers from some of the worst of Sandy’s destruction.

During a push to modernize flood maps in the mid-2000s, FEMA decided to save money in New York City and much of the rest of the country by digitizing old flood maps without updating the underlying information, rather than using new technology to create more accurate maps.

The agency changed course in 2006, but didn’t release maps with better elevation data and more accurate storm-surge models until months after Sandy – too late to help New Yorkers like the Morgans.

When FEMA finally released a preliminary version of those maps this January they showed that the number of city structures considered at high risk of flooding had doubled. More than 35,000 additional homes and businesses were added to the map’s riskiest zones, according to a study by New York City’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability. Some 9,503 of those buildings suffered damaged during Sandy, a ProPublica analysis of flood maps shows.

FEMA did not respond to specific questions about the adequacy of its flood maps or glitches in the modernization process. Bill McDonnell, the deputy director for mitigation for FEMA’s Region II, acknowledged that no new data had been collected to update maps for New York or New Jersey in the mid-2000s. In a statement, the agency said it began giving priority to map updates for “high-risk, coastal areas” in 2009. These included 14 counties in New Jersey and New York City. The agency said it continues to work with state and local officials to “incorporate the best available data into maps.’’

That didn’t help the Morgans. Their home, a 1920s bungalow to which they added a second floor, was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy.  

“The whole basement was destroyed,” said Patrice Morgan, a professor at Kingsborough Community College who was pregnant with her third child when Sandy arrived. “We had to rip out four feet of our walls, replace all of our appliances.”

The family spent more than five months at Patrice’s parents’ house in Bensonhurst before they could move back in. The Morgans received $17,000 from FEMA and $6,000 from their homeowners’ insurance, but spent nearly $50,000 out-of-pocket to rebuild their home.

The error in calculating the Morgans’ flood risk was substantial. The map that existed when they bought the house in 2008 predicted that floodwaters would rise less than a foot even in rare storms, those with a 1 percent chance of occurring in any year. The new maps predict floodwaters 11 feet deep for that block under those conditions.

Philip Orton, an oceanographer at the Stevens Institute of Technology who worked as a technical reviewer on the new maps, said most of the difference can be accounted for by more accurate mapping data and technology. Rising sea levels due to climate change accounts for no more than six inches of the increase, Orton said.

If they’d known in 2008 what they know now, Philip Morgan said, the house’s entire layout would be different.

“Our utilities are in the basement,” he said. “We would have moved that to a higher floor. Higher, that’s the key.”

FEMA’s sputtering effort to update its flood maps dates back about a decade.

The maps serve several crucial functions. Beyond helping to set standards for development in areas considered high-risk, they determine the rates homeowners pay for insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program. Homeowners with federally backed mortgages in high-risk flood zones — where the annual chance of flooding is estimated at 1 percent or higher — are required by law to purchase flood insurance.

Until 2003, FEMA had been using mostly paper maps drawn in the 1970s and ‘80s. That year, at the urging of floodplain administrators, Congress passed legislation allocating about $1 billion -- $200 million a year for five years -- to update and digitize the nation’s flood maps.

But David Maurstad, who ran the flood insurance program from 2004 to 2008, said he told the White House’s Office of Management and Budget early in his tenure that the money authorized wouldn’t come close to covering the cost of updating all the maps.

“I indicated to them that I want to make sure you understand that this is a down payment — less than a third of the maps are going to get new engineering,” he said.

New engineering was crucial because modern technologies are capable of producing far more accurate maps. Lidar, which is collected by airplanes that shoot laser pulses at the ground, can detect differences in ground elevation of as little as 3 inches and produces data that’s 10 times as accurate as that used to generate earlier maps. And computer programs such as ADCIRC can model storm surge and wave action with far greater accuracy.

“There can be massive under-predictions with the old technology,” said Joannes Westerink, an engineering professor at the University of Notre Dame and a co-developer of ADCIRC, “simply because it wasn’t representing the physics right.”

But updating maps with new engineering isn’t cheap.

When FEMA started updating New York City’s maps in 2003, it used elevation data from the old maps and matched it up with modern satellite imagery “in order to stretch the mapping budget," said Lisa King, a spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

The result: Digital maps that weren’t much more accurate than the paper ones they replaced.

City and state officials weren’t happy.

New York City specifically requested that FEMA gather lidar data for its new maps and was rebuffed, according to a city official who requested not be named.

“The City had serious concerns about the accuracy of this data,” the official said in an email to ProPublica, “and stated this in numerous meetings and then in a formal letter to FEMA.”

Nechamen, the state floodplain chief, called FEMA’s strategy “misguided and counterproductive” in his 2005 letter to Maurstad at FEMA.

“This is insufficient and will result in poor quality, but really good looking maps that fail to provide the data needed to adequately manage development in floodplains,” he wrote. “Many errors on existing maps will continue to appear on the new maps.”

Nechamen referred requests for comment to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which did not respond to requests to make him available for an interview.

In an interview, Maurstad said he had received similar complaints from officials from other states as well.

“This is consistent with what many of the state folks were expressing at the time,” he said.

As a result, in 2006, FEMA changed its flooding-mapping strategy in what it called a “midcourse adjustment,” which called for producing digital maps for about 92 percent of the country, rather than the whole nation. The agency said it would use the money it saved to increase slightly the number of areas that got new engineering.

But New York City’s flood maps didn’t get much new engineering — not new storm-surge analyses or lidar elevation data.

Some states saw the need for better maps as so urgent that they took it upon themselves to gather the data. North Carolina decided to pay for mapping the state using lidar after Hurricane Floyd in 1999. “We were concerned at the time that FEMA didn’t have the money,” said John Dorman, the director of the North Carolina Floodplain Mapping Program.

Other parts of New York had more accurate data than New York City. The maps for Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island, finalized in 2009, had been drawn using lidar and new storm-surge models. (Much of that data had been gathered by the Army Corps of Engineers.)

It made a huge difference when Sandy struck. According to ProPublica’s analysis, 75 percent of the flooded area in Suffolk County and 89 percent of the flooded area in Nassau County fell within the high-risk zones on the new maps.

No map, of course, can predict all the idiosyncrasies of a particular storm, a FEMA specialist told ProPublica.

But maps for Brooklyn and Queens, the city’s hardest-hit boroughs, predicted Sandy’s flooding far less reliably. Only 47 percent of the flooded area in Brooklyn and 54 percent of the flooded area in Queens was in the area considered high-risk. (See our interactive news application to explore how coastal New York and New Jersey counties rank at predicting Sandy’s surge. See our methodology for more about how we analyzed the flood map data.)

Queens

54%

Of Sandy flood area predicted by flood maps

Kings

47%

Of Sandy flood area predicted by flood maps

New York City’s flood insurance maps, released by FEMA in 2007, are based on older technology and an older storm-surge model. ...

Nassau

89%

Of Sandy flood area predicted by flood maps

... Nassau County got new flood maps in 2009, using lidar data and a new storm surge analysis. These maps were better at predicting the area Sandy flooded than the New York City maps.
  Sandy Flood Area
  Existing Flood Hazard Zones
Source: FEMA

FEMA started updating New York City’s maps again in 2009, only two years after the previous flood maps had been released. This time they undertook a new storm-surge analysis and included lidar data that the city itself spent $450,000 to gather in 2010. (The effort was partly financed with a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.)

But these maps weren’t ready in time for Sandy, a delay that carried a high price.

Nearly 400 of the buildings that suffered damage during Sandy had been built or modified since 2007, when the less-accurate maps came out, ProPublica’s analysis showed. Those buildings weren’t included in high-risk flood zones; now they are.  

Rita Brummer poses for a portrait with her Shih Tzu, Coco Chanel, at her home in the Rockaways on Monday afternoon. In the background, a worker removes siding from the house. Brummer and Steven Farrara are still working on their home more than a year after it was flooded by Superstorm Sandy. The pair dropped their flood insurance coverage less than a year before the storm, when they were told their property did not fall into the high-risk flood zone. (Karsten Moran for ProPublica)

Rita Brummer and Steven Ferrara, who live in the Belle Harbor neighborhood in Queens, paid flood insurance premiums for more than 20 years before they dropped their coverage less than a year before Sandy flooded their home. On the 2007 maps, their home wasn’t in a high-risk flood zone.

“Nobody believed the storm was going to hit us like this,” Brummer said.

The surge of salt water and sewage that flooded their home caused more than $100,000 in damage, much of which the couple paid to repair themselves. On the updated maps released this year, their house was in a high-risk zone. Had she known that sooner, Brummer said, she “never would have dropped” her flood insurance.

More than 100 other homes that suffered damage in Belle Harbor also did not fall into the high-risk flood zone on the old flood maps but are considered high-risk on the maps released this year.

Those maps are in the process of being refined further. In the weeks after the storm, FEMA rushed to release incomplete “advisory” versions, then issued more complete updates this January. The maps are expected to be finalized in 2015.

Imperfect as they remain, New York City’s flood maps are more advanced than those covering some other parts of the country. Five coastal counties in New Jersey still use paper maps dating back decades. FEMA has been in the process of revising New Orleans’ maps since the Army Corps shored up the city’s flood protection after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and still officially relies on paper maps from 1984.

Though the federal government approved more than $60 billion in aid after Hurricane Sandy, including a $9.7 billion increase in the National Flood Insurance Program’s borrowing limit, it has actually cut spending on flood mapping in recent years. Congress allocated $99 million for updating maps in 2012, roughly half of what it had spent annually since 2004. About the same amount was allocated for this year.

In a report released in March, the Association of State Floodplain Managers estimated the total cost of updating flood maps nationwide at $4.5 billion to $7.5 billion. It also estimated that the maps, even in their current state, save the country about $1 billion a year in flood-related damages.

Chad Berginnis, the association’s executive director, said that the absence of accurate flood maps could lead to an “entire cascade of impacts”: higher costs to taxpayers in the form of disaster assistance, higher likelihood of injury and death for residents, lost tax revenue and damaged infrastructure after flooding occurs.

“All of those typical effects are things that happen when you don’t have good, accurate flood data that you’re using,” he said.

This seems to be key, “The agency changed course in 2006, but didn’t release maps with better elevation data and more accurate storm-surge models until months after Sandy…”

So they were in the process of updating the maps, but simply didn’t have them done in time for Sandy. That’s unfortunate, but often how the world works.

I also note that the article rather quickly glossed over the fact that Congress failed to allocate sufficient funds to FEMA to update the mapping data, and that FEMA, as a result, had to prioritize where to best utilize the funds they’d been given.

In fact, it’s likely that FEMA prioritized areas like the Gulf (Katrina) and along the Mississippi. Areas whose flooding problems have been a little more recent and prevalent than those around NYC.

Finally, not being in a “high-risk” zone doesn’t mean that you’re in a no-risk-whatsoever zone. As such, developers and homeowners both bear more than a little of the responsibility regarding where they build and where they buy.

This seems like a valid story, but isn’t it missing a key bit of context: If these same homeowners had been required to purchase flood insurance, or to pay higher premiums because they were in a higher-risk flood zones, wouldn’t they have complained about the burden of the higher costs? As the homeowners say, they hadn’t flooded in their memory, and that’s the case they would have been making about the unfairness of flood maps—if they had been in a higher-risk zone. Yes, the maps should be accurate, but let’s acknowledge that people often want to have it both way.

Theodoric Meyer

Dec. 6, 2013, 12:15 p.m.

Michael, you’re right that Congress didn’t appropriate enough money to update the maps for the whole country. I wrote about how the federal government has slashed funding for the maps in May:

http://www.propublica.org/article/as-need-for-new-flood-maps-rises-congress-and-obama-cut-funding

Abe, I agree that many homeowners who are now in high-risk flood zones probably would have been unhappy if they’d been forced to buy flood insurance before Sandy, just as there’s been an outcry against rising rates in recent months. The Times had a good story on this back in October:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/13/us/cost-of-flood-insurance-rises-along-with-worries.html?_r=0&pagewanted=all

I’ve been following the flood map story for many years. I have Google News alerts that send me headlines about FEMA, the NFIP, flood plains, and flooding every day. There are basically two kinds of stories: In one story line, FEMA has just updated the flood plain map in an area, and the people who live there are upset and complaining. They say the place has never flooded before, it will never flood, and they should not be forced to buy flood insurance, and they’re mad at the government.

The other kind of story is: somebody has just had a terrible flood, they weren’t in the official flood hazard area, they didn’t have insurance because it wasn’t required, and they want to know why somebody didn’t warn them, and they want emergency help. And they’re mad at the government.

Flood risk is very hard to quantify outside of locations that are clearly river bottom land, because rare flooding—one percent annual risk flooding—depends on uncommon weather events that occur in a chaotic distribution. It’s unpredictable. The only people who really want to buy flood insurance are people who have flooded before and who expect to flood again. For whatever reason, people who have not experienced a flood in the past just don’t want to believe that they could experience one in the future. When the new maps do come out in any given area, there is always—always—political pressure on FEMA to withdraw the maps and revise them and make the designated flood hazard area smaller. (Maine is a good example.)

FEMA does not have an easy row to hoe here.

I have to agree with Abe, and can understand why FEMA might even drag its collective feet.  The benefit of getting it right comes at a cost of angry people forced to buy more flood insurance than they need (a common situation out on Long Island, certainly), whereas the payoff to that insurance burden only shows itself if a late-season hurricane collides head-on with an early-season nor’easter.

Me, I’d roll the dice.  I’m curious what the estimates would have been on premiums paid versus the damage covered by insurance.  I know for sure that nobody with flood insurance got everything covered, so it may be a closer call than we think.

Even where the maps are accurate, too, how many people were inside/outside where the flood zones should have been?  Because of the timing and direction of winds, I know there are few spots that were flooded that models still have a hard time predicting.

Let’s be honest, this is a very difficult problem, and we’re pretending that a government that hasn’t found a way to “decrease our dependence on foreign oil” in forty years despite wind power, solar power, and domestic oil, is going to take some pictures and get an accurate model of everybody’s flood risk for weather conditions that have come along once every few decades at most.

Sure, fix the maps when the time and funding are available, and cut costs where that’s viable like using drones.  But don’t expect them to be perfect any more than you expect the TV news seven-day forecast to be right for next week.

It seems the government is responsible to take care of you and make decisions for you from cradle to grave.  If you choose buy a house on or near the beach you are assuming risks; if you buy a home in a flood plain you are assuming risks.  FEMA produces flood maps as a service to help inform the public but individuals should still have the responsibility for their decisions.  FEMA’s flood insure program exist because only the federal government is willing to underwrite these high risk decisions, private insurance companies know the risks are too high.  Unfortunately, many people believe they have no responsibly for their decisions and the government must make them whole if anything happens to them.
 
I have sympathy for the Morgan’s who had to spend $50,000 to repair their home.  But that does not lead me to the conclusion that the taxes of some unnamed single working parent living on high ground without an ocean view and beachfront access should be given to the Morgan’s.  The federal government’s money is not free; every dollar they give out was taken from someone else.

I live 300 yds from a river.
FEMA had us at “no flood risk”.
I bought flood insurance anyway.
I note they recently changed us to “low flood risk”.

Having survived Katrina and currently living not far from where we lost everything to the floodwaters, FEMA is another overly managed, incompetent arm of the Government.  Here, the new FIRMS have people paying upward of $10,000+ per year for flood insurance, even though their homes were built to the standards required when their home was built/purchased.  What happened to all the money collected during the MANY years of minimal flooding throughout the country?  As I said, another government office that doesn’t have a clue and is mismanaged.

Isn’t this a bit of evidence that we have a gov’t too big, ineffective and no matter how much money is thrown to agencies such as FEMA stories such as this will recur over and over. NY should take matters in their own hands and not depend on the national gov’t.

In Oregon, they have flood maps prepared but you have to make an appointment to go see them.  The local government is not allowed to put them online or distribute them.

I am not familiar with NY State’s coastal land use and flood hazard laws and local land use ordiacne powers, but here in NJ, the State is responsible for flood plain making under the NJ Flood Hazard Area COntrol Act and the State is responsible for land use regulation in the coastal zone under the Coastal Area Facilities Review Act (CAFRA).

This story confuses roles and responsibilities for land use and development controls with insurance rates.

FEMA does NOT regulate land use and development.

States and local governments do.

Totally misleading story.

pgillenw—It kind of reads the opposite to me: FEMA knows exactly how to predict floods better, but not enough money is being “thrown at it”;  Only 1/3 of enough was dedicated. 

It also shows that for something like this, the private sector doesn’t just “step up” and make accurate flood maps themselves.  Home owners can’t take action on their own outside of government and choose correctly whether they need flood insurance or not.

deb—It’s private insurance companies that got paid premiums all those years there was no flooding.  It is terrible to have to pay such high rates because the government took a closer look and said an area is riskier. 

However, this article and most people are complaining that the government is not looking closely enough and saying that areas such as those hit by Sandy or other rare storms are not rated as riskily as they should be.

It’s a natural consequence that premiums would go up if new surveys find more flooding risk.

Michael Long-I know people who live MILES inland, who were flooded by Sandy. How ,exactly,  should they have “known they were at risk” considering that they live miles inland,and the government told them they lived in a low or no flood risk zone?Why would they have had cause to know or to think they knew better than the U.S.Government?
When Hurricane Gloria hit, a friend of mine whose family lived near the ocean, evacuated from Far Rockaway to Forest Hills, Queens.Nothing happened to her parents home in Far Rockaway, but a tree fell on her car in Forest Hills and cut it in half ! Should she have have anticipated that a tree would slice her car in half? Should my Aunt and Uncle have known that a tree would fall on their house in Great Neck during Hurricane IRENE??
You’re correct that there is no such thing as a “being in no risk whatsoever zone.”This means that YOU,Michael are living at risk ,wherever YOU live,and according to your words, “bear more than a little of the responsibility should a national disaster, destroy YOUR home someday.Yes,wherever you live,something you had not anticipated could go wrong.

Abe Maslow- Certain homeowners, myself included, never would have bought homes in areas if they had been informed that the homes they were purchasing were in flood zones.My home was designated as being at the lowest possible risk of flooding when I purchased . Sandy had other ideas. As for whether people would have complained about paying flood insurance premiums.People complain about paying taxes ,health insurance premiums , life, but
we pay for all those things,even as we complain about them.If people
had been been apprised that they were purchasing homes in flood some ,such as myself would have chosen not to buy in a flood zone,and other would have paid the premiums.I am intending to sell my home if anyone is willing to buy it, incidentally.

Bill- Most people whose homes were destroyed or severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy do not have Ocean front views, water views, or necessarily even live within miles of the ocean body of water.
“The Federal Government’s Money is not free.Every dollar that was given out (to help Hurricane Sandy Victims, presumably) was TAKEN from someone else).Those whose homes were destroyed or damaged by Hurricane Sandy ARE taxpayers, whose money has often gone to pay for others. .I pay $7,000 a year in school taxes and I live in an apartment. So, according to your argument,all parents of children are TAKING money from me.Anyone who collects social security, unemployment, SSI, SSD, or any number of government benefits, is benefiting from someone else’s tax dollars. This is a society, or at least I thought it was until I started reading all the “Why should MY taxpayer dollars pay for those”Oceanfront Castle Dwellers near the Ocean letters to the Editor.”
Are YOU willing to sign a waiver stating that YOU will never accept taxpayer dollars that have been paid by flood victims or by anyone else?
I didn’t think so.
Theodoric Meyer-I read that New York Times Article.What is particularly difficult is that many of those who lost their homes,possessions, and in many cases jobs or businesses,are paying mortgages and real estate taxes in homes that are uninhabitable while paying rent to live elsewhere.
The Briggert-Waters Act comes into effect,and suddenly these same family are facing a flood insurance premium of $10,000 $20,000, or $30,000 on top of everything else.This is the perfect financial storm,so to speak.
I am a Hurricane Sandy Survivor.I witnessed horrors that I imagine most of you never have and never will. I am surrounded by people who lost their homes to flood or fire that night.I have sat next to people at the Disaster Relief Center next to people who had nothing left but the shirts on their backs.To those of you who were spared ,please try to have a little compassion,and be grateful that you did not lose everything.

Back in the Carter administration, I worked for a FEMA contractor charged with geocoding the Flood Insurance Rate Maps and Flood Hazard Maps for the US.  The idea, at the time, was to set up a call center where real-estate agencies, insurance agents, and householders could call, give an address, and have an agent tell them their flood insurance rating.

This was hard back then. We digitized the maps by hand (not joking) from paper copies of the maps supplied folded (again, not joking). We then matched the outlines of the flood zones against Census-bureau furnished computerized stickmaps of streets.  From what I’ve seen of recent rate maps, not much has changed in the way the flood boundaries are drawn.  The stickmaps are far better now, of course.

The idea of this project was to get the federal government out of the uncompensated flood disaster-relief business by insisting that people pay for flood insurance on their properties at risk of flood. The concept, typically Carter-era idealistic, was that it’s possible objectively to rate properties for their risk, so the system could be fair.

The other idea was, and still is, that it’s helpful to discourage construction in areas of high flood risk. This is indeed a role of states and municipalities. Federal flood insurance engages mortgage lenders and insurance agents in the decisions about risk management. Local governments don’t have much incentive to act against property owners in these sorts of matters, unfortunately.

Some will say that’s a nanny-state attitude, but the fact remains that the feds spend a ton of money on flood relief provided to those who don’t have insurance. It’s not enough to make people whole, but they still spend it. (The question is very much like those around health insurance. Is it better to ask people to pay for insurance, or is it better to provide “free relief” sort of like the “free care” an uninsured person can get from a hospital emergency department.)

A hard-line free-market approach to the problem would be for the federal government simply to refuse to provide any flood-disaster relief. Such an approach would place the work of risk-management in the private domain. That might be efficient. But it would never work, because the government would always, rightly, step in to offer relief.

Our geocoding project did pretty well, in general, with our address-matching considering all the struggles. The problems lay, not surprisingly, with providing accurate ratings for addresses in neighborhoods like those hammered by Sandy. To assess the risk of flood in places like that—especially where the hazard is surging wind-driven water—is hard to do from a call center. Heck, it’s hard for a trained hydrologist on the ground to make those judgments. People routinely appealed their insurance ratings. And not one appeal said, “you blew it, FEMA. My risk of flood is higher than what you claimed; revise it now.”

There was all kinds of political pressure on our geocoding project. At the time we had the best rating data around, so politicians were always either asking to see it, or asking for it to be held confidential.  The federal contractors administering relief payments were always demanding that our data be kept secret, because they were reimbursed based on the volume of claims paid out: suspiciously systematic errors in policy rating (of which there were plenty) would increase their workload and cut their revenue.

Reagan was elected and our project was canceled.

It’s hard to get this flood-insurance stuff right in the real world of Atlantic storms, federal contractors, and politicians.

The flaws in the maps had significant impact. Developers relied on FEMA’s assessment of risks when they built new homes near the water. And homeowners and businesses made crucial decisions about where to buy or lease property on the assurance that they were outside of the high-risk zones.

Well, that’s different, at least…all I usually hear are anecdotal stories of pay-offs by parties with the interests named above to ensure that their properties/developments did not appear to be in a flood zone.

In fact, I know somebody who bought an unimproved property from Countrywide that Countrywide sold while concealing the fact that the property was in a flood zone…and the purchaser only found out when his bank refused to provide him with a loan to build on it because it was in a flood zone.

I guess what I’m trying to say is I’d look real hard before I just accepted the word of “developers” on who was responsible for building on land that was effectively destined to be underwater at some point in the future.

The city wanted the property tax and was part of the deception. People knew of the flood areas back in the 1800’s.

It’s illogical to have what we have. A flood insurance system where taxpayers subsidize homeowners flood insurance rates/premiums is more of a wealth transfer program than real insurance which calculates for the actual risk a home poses in a particular flood zone.

Why do people (esp. the middle class and lower class) who would love to own a home but cannot afford one have to subsidize others who have made the decision to own a home in high-risk flood zone areas?

In many ways it’s a wealth transfer from middle class/lower class folks to wealthier classes and for reasons like that it’s morally wrong. As an aside, there’s nothing in the Constitution that says taxpayers must subsidize this program. We shouldn’t be forced to pay (via taxation) into a system that benefits a minority of the people at the expense of everyone else.

Mitchel Cohen

Dec. 9, 2013, 1:04 a.m.

Very interesting article, and also extremely knowledgeable comments.

I just want to extrapolate from the data to point out that homeowners are not the only people who need to be concerned about this. I live near the proposed municipal Brooklyn Marine Transfer Station. Even though it will be built right on Gravesend Bay, by using the old maps the New York City Department of Sanitation contemplated a certain height for the garbage transfer in its plans and in the 10-year-old Environmental Impact Statement. However, the new maps and zoning indicate a 10-fold increase in the possible height of waves (and ad to that the flooding from sewers backing-up), which is being ignored by the City.

The new data needs to be integrated into all City plans, as well as those of private homeowners. And this is not happening.

Mitchel Cohen
Brooklyn Greens/Green Party of NY

Mitchel Cohen

Dec. 9, 2013, 1:42 a.m.

I should also have called for a new Environmental Impact Statement based on the alarming new data.

(Fixed some typos in the comments below)...

I just want to extrapolate from the data to point out that homeowners are not the only people who need to be concerned about this. I live near the proposed Southwest Brooklyn municipal Marine Transfer Station. Even though it will be built right on Gravesend Bay, by using the old maps the New York City Department of Sanitation contemplated a certain height for the garbage transfer in its plans and in the 10-year-old Environmental Impact Statement. However, the new maps and zoning indicate a 10-fold increase in the possible height of waves (and add to that the flooding from sewers backing-up), which is being ignored by the City.

The new data needs to be integrated into all City plans, as well as those of private homeowners. Also needed: A stop to the entire process until a new Environmental Impact Statement based on that alarming new data is submitted and approved.

Mitchel Cohen
Brooklyn Greens/Green Party of NY

Anyone remember Bush on Katrina “Heck of a job Brownie” is what he said as the people of New Orleans suffered. Have any of the people responsible for making the flood maps or supervisors been fired? No because just like good old Brownie, many of these positions are filled by incompetents as political favors. I believe Brownie did something with horse shows which would hardly make him competent to take care of national disasters. As the media is all bought or intimidated Americans have no clue to the corruption going on here. America is the most hypocritical, incompetent, censored nation on the planet. Time for a revolution.

They are a gvernement agency, WHAT DO YOU DOPES EXPECT, THEY LIE ON PURPOSE FOR THE REGIME

FEMA was an extremely well-managed and effective agency under Clinton.  Then Bush appointed an unqualified Republican crony “Brownie” to run it, and this was the result (look at the dates in the article).  Republicans don’t believe in government and so they do a terrible job at it.  Many of us rely on government for information (such as whether our home is in a flood plain, or is this drug safe) that we could not get ourselves.