Changes to FEMA flood maps impact insurance rates

By Brian Sasser, Bill Spencer - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - Major changes to FEMA flood maps could impact how much you're paying for insurance. It's taking some people by surprise.

The Brazos River in Fort Bend County is peaceful, beautiful and a big draw for families looking to get away from the city. Thanks to brand new FEMA flood maps that same river may now unknowingly cost homeowners thousands of dollars more a year.

In April, FEMA's maps become official and they show some homes in the River's Edge community are now in the flood plain.

"When the restudy was underway, we had some preliminary information. All of a sudden the developer realized some of his land would be underwater and some of the homes already built may be at or below the flood plain," said Mark Vogler, manager of Fort Bend County Drainage District. "Being in a flood plain, if your mortgage is a federally backed mortgage, you have to have flood insurance."

"So the home builder's solution was that homes yet to be built will be elevated, but homes already constructed will just have to risk flooding. However, the home builder did add retaining walls between the homes," John Wege, a resident of Sugar Land said. "I received a letter from my mortgage company."

Retiree Wege lives in Settler's Way. He got the same bad news from FEMA, but couldn't understand why all of a sudden, he's now living in a flood zone.

"We have a little water access back there," said Wege. "We have a lot of water fowl, armadillo, raccoon. I didn't know why things changed in this area."

So Wege hired a company, ordered an elevation certificate and proved his home wasn't in a flood zone.

"I went back to the mortgage company because of new information I request that they not force me to get flood insurance. I would have to go to FEMA, to a particular website and a phone number. I did the documentation and sent it all to FEMA. Within five to six weeks, FEMA came back and said we're not in a flood plain and insurance wasn't a requirement," Wege said.

That means Wege will actually save $2,500 a year and as a byproduct of his work so will about a dozen of his neighbors.

How did this error happen?

"The lake actually existed here, but when they (FEMA) overlaid the flood plain, mapping it was offset to some degree so a lot of lots were put in a flood plain including Mr. Wege's," Vogler said.

Local 2 hurricane expert Bill Read went to Galveston County to see just what these new flood maps mean for thousands of folks who actually do live near a large body of water like the Gulf of Mexico.

"Where is the impact going to be felt the most in the county?" Reed asked.

"Well the Clear Lake area, League City, Kemah, Clear Lake Shores the base flood elevations have gone up there from one to three or four feet. San Leon, some areas of the base-flood elevations have gone up for a couple of feet. All of San Leon is now in the flood plain. I think it's the methodology and the data and the models. i don't think that we created flood plains i think we better delineated them," said Galveston County engineer Mike Fitzgerald.

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