HAMBURG, N.Y. (WIVB-TV) – Following years of studies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is issuing new flood maps that increase the flood risk for about 150 Erie County homeowners.
For some, that means they will now have to buy flood insurance.
The coastal maps are being updated thanks to improvements in science. FEMA now has better models, a better understanding of Lake Erie topography, and many more years worth of historical data to more accurately assess flood risks.
FEMA’s new flood maps are the first new maps issued in about 20 to 30 years that take into account new hazards of living close to the lake.
“We are including a new flood zone in those maps, called the VE zone, and that represents areas of high wave risk. It’s right along the shore’s edge,” said Andrew Martin, FEMA’s risk analysis branch chief for Region 2.
FEMA held public outreach meetings this week from Hamburg to South Buffalo to try and help people understand what the changes mean and how it affects them. For some, it means they’ll now have to pay for mandatory flood insurance.
The majority of those people – about 100 homeowners – live in or near Buffalo’s First Ward, where residents have long expressed concern over the added expense.
“I think the way it affects the First Ward is disproportionately affecting the lower socioeconomic members of our community, and I think it’s going to be tough, where some of them will have to pay anywhere from $100 to $200 a month, and that’s a lot to those families,” said Patrick Gormley, executive director of the Old First Ward Community Association.
“The reason we are here is not necessarily to cause people…challenges or make life harder for them, it’s just that we really want people to understand what the risk is,” Martin said.
The primary concern for South Buffalo is not waves, as it is along the shore line, it’s the Buffalo River. FEMA says storm surges on the lake would raise the level of the river.
“Everyone that’s about a few hundred yards south of us here in the community center are in the new floodplain map. The community center here behind us is also in the new floodplain map, parts of it,” Gormley said.
In addition to possible changes in flood insurance, the new coastal maps also create new building restrictions.
“Those new requirements would only apply to new or substantially improved construction, so existing homes would not have to rebuild or make any significant changes, although they might want to think about it because this risk is real, and we want people to be prepared for what might happen,” Martin said.
The maps will be finalized in about 18 months. It’s then that the mandatory flood insurance requirement will take effect. FEMA says the website Floodsmart.gov provides information on flood insurance policies.