Floodplain changes to cause big impact

Flood insurance rates could go up substantially for Insurance could go way up under new rules

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Changes to Wheat Ridge’s flood plain maps — which will require more than 100 residents to buy flood insurance — took another step forward during a recent City Council meeting.

New state- and federally approved flood maps will impact homeowners who reside along Clear Creek and Lena Gulch, beginning in February.

The costs could be substantial for residents whose mortgages will soon require that they purchase flood insurance.

“We’re definitely going to have a lot more people in the floodplain,” Mark Westberg, of the city’s Public Works Department, said. “It’s going to be a big hit on a lot of folks.”

During its Dec. 9 meeting, the council gave unanimous initial approval to the first reading of an ordinance that would revise city code in a manner that comports with revised floodplain rules and regulations put in place by the Colorado Water Conservation Board three years ago.

A second and final vote will take place after a public comment period during the Jan. 13 council meeting.

The city held off on adopting those new standards to allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency time to convert federal mapping to a more modern, digital format. New maps for the National Flood Insurance Program were approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) earlier this year.

The new rules are intended to “provide stricter floodplain management standards to help communities reduce the risks to people and property caused by flooding,” according to city documents.

Westberg said between 50 and 100 homeowners who currently reside in the floodplain will be mapped out, but that anywhere from 100 to 200 residents will be mapped into the new system.

The extent to which federally-mandated flood insurance costs will affect homeowners depends on where they reside within the floodplain.

The new mapping structure will base insurance rates on the elevation of the home’s lowest floor. The variations in those costs could range from a few hundred dollars a year to a couple of thousand, Westberg said.

“That’s a lot,” he said. “For some, that could be more than their mortgage.”

The city of Wheat Ridge really has no choice in the matter. Had the city failed to comply with the new flood plain rules, residents would have been hit with a surcharge on their flood-insurance policies. Or, they could have lost their ability to get flood insurance, entirely.

The city also would have risked losing watershed grant money and federal flood-plain funding.

“I don’t see a lot of people moving out of the floodplain” just because of the changes, Westberg said. “It’s their house. It’s where they are.”

The city will continue to offer a 20 percent discount on flood-insurance premiums for residents who reside in the flood plain. Federal grants could also be available to residents as a way to mitigate costs.

Westberg said it’s important that residents see the benefits of the changes to the new maps.

“It puts people on notice that if we have a 100-year flood in Wheat Ridge, you’re going to get wet,” he said. “You need to get flood insurance. By using the most accurate maps, we reduce the risks.”

The recent flooding around parts of the state should serve as a reminder to residents of the importance of being properly covered in the event of a natural disaster, Westberg said.

“People just don’t think floods happen. But if you look at what happened up north, they do. It can be catastrophic.”

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