FEMA’s Decision To Adjust Flood Zone Maps Called ‘Critical Win For Ocean City’

FEMA’s Decision To Adjust Flood Zone Maps Called ‘Critical Win For Ocean City’
1 Ocean City IMG 6516 13 09 2012 2

OCEAN CITY — Many resort oceanfront property owners could be getting a kick-back on exorbitant flood insurance premiums after a federal agency agreed there were flaws in the mapping of Ocean City’s most vulnerable areas.

Ocean City officials learned last week FEMA had agreed to adjust the maps after reviewing the Letter of Map Revision (LOMR), which essentially moved many beachfront properties, particularly along the north end of Ocean City, from the VE zone, or the highest flood zone designation.

“Yes, it was very good news,” said City Engineer Terry McGean, who led the effort to correct the maps along with the Mayor and Council and the resort’s state and federal delegations. “The LOMR moves the VE flood zone boundary to coincide with the beach replenishment project line and, therefore, removes all properties in the condo row area between 93rd Street and 123rd Street from the high-hazard VE zone and the associated high flood insurance premiums.”

Last July, FEMA issued new flood insurance rate maps for the town of Ocean City that concluded the eastern edge of the long-established dune system should be the line of demarcation of sorts for the higher flood insurance rates and properties west of the primary dune would fall into a lesser flood zone designation.

However, in a few areas of the resort, particularly along condo row from 93rd to 123rd streets, FEMA determined through its new maps an existing secondary dune, built in front of several oceanfront properties in the early 1980s, was now the standard by which the VE flood zone would be determined.

Years later, the primary dune was constructed through the beach replenishment project. As a result, the primary dune is in front of the older secondary dune with a fenced alleyway of sorts about 10 feet wide in most cases separating the two.

Numerous oceanfront buildings subsequently found themselves partially in the VE flood zone, some by as few as five feet. Federal policy states that if any portion of a property falls in the VE flood zone the entire building is subject to the flood insurance requirements. For some individual property owners, the flood insurance rates in the VE zone run as high as $22,000 annually. For at least one oceanfront property used as an example, the flood insurance premium for the entire building approached $500,000.

Ocean City recognized the mapping problem and the resulting exorbitant insurance premiums for many resort property owners and implored FEMA to make the obvious corrections. FEMA commiserated with the town’s dilemma and instructed Ocean City officials to file a LOMR as part of a formal process to amend the flawed maps. With the Mayor and Council’s blessing, McGean prepared the LOMR with the help of a consultant. Ocean City’s delegation in Annapolis and the resort’s representatives on Capitol Hill also threw their support behind the LOMR effort, which was ultimately successful. Last week, Congressman Andy Harris (D-1-Md.) announced FEMA had agreed to adjust the maps.

“FEMA’s announcement is a critical win for Ocean City and will allow the town to finally resolve the flood map issue,” he said. “We have been diligently working with the town of Ocean City, FEMA, as well as local officials to ensure that the hard-working people on the shore are not forced to pay unnecessarily high insurance rates. I applaud FEMA for working with us to correct this expensive error.”

With the issuance of the LOMR, FEMA agreed the primary dune created through the beach replenishment project should be the line of delineation and not the older secondary dune that fronts many properties along high-rise row.

“This revision is based on updating the delineation of the primary frontal dune to include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Atlantic Coast of Maryland Storm Protection Project and excludes the secondary dunes that are non-continuous, private landscape areas,” a FEMA statement read.

While the LOMR approval will not become effective until the spring, McGean said most property owners who forked over high flood insurance premiums could get some relief.

“The LOMR does not become effective until March, so we are not sure how that affects premiums in the interim, but my understanding is that they will be eligible for rebates,” he said. “That will be between the individual buildings and their insurance carriers.”

McGean thanked the resort’s representatives in Annapolis and Washington for throwing their collective weight behind the LOMR effort and said there remain a few odd properties that still fall into the VE zone erroneously. McGean said those issues could be resolved in a separate LOMR request.

“The LOMR application was prepared and submitted by my office and covered the entire condo row area where most of the problems were,” he said. “There are a few additional buildings outside of this area that are still falling in the VE zone. We have a consultant preparing applications to address those on a property-by-property basis. Our entire congressional delegation was a huge help in making this happen and we also appreciate the FEMA staff for working with us to resolve the issue.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.