by Susan Mikula Campbell
An angry buzzing evolved into a din of shouted remarks and questions as an information meeting on the new floodplain maps began July 15 in Wheatfield.
It was standing-room-only in the Wheatfield Community Center as upset and confused residents sought answers on whether they would be required to purchase expensive flood insurance due to the newly released Federal Emergency Management Agency floodplain maps.
FEMA originally proposed adding 900 new Wheatfield addresses to the floodplain maps. Town protests were successful in removing about two-thirds of those additions, according to Town Engineer Timothy Walck.
Meanwhile, the town's revised model for the Bergholz/Sawyer Creek area has been accepted by FEMA and may result in some residents of that area who have been on floodplain maps for years being removed from the maps.
"FEMA's consultant accepted (the revised model), and now they're mapping it," said Walck. "It will definitely have a positive impact, but we'll see to what extent when we see the result of the mapping."
Walck was calm under fire at last week's meetings as he fielded questions.
He emphasized that those who are now believed to be required to purchase flood insurance can receive special discounts and save hundreds of dollars if they act before the maps go into effect on Sept. 17.
Residents for whom the floodplain touches only their property but not the actual structure of their home may not need flood insurance, he said. Most banks do not require flood insurance in these cases, but residents should check with their lenders to be sure.
Walck was asked if his own home was in the floodplain.
"Yes ... I can't do anything about it. I wish I could," he said, noting that the floodplain designation is a federal, not a town decision.
There were also questions about the possibility of the town rejecting the federal program, as have some 2,000 other communities across the nation.
Walck said in that checking some of these communities, many did not have a floodplain and had only joined the program originally because it offered a way for residents who wanted flood insurance to get it at lower rates than privately. For a community like Wheatfield to opt out of the FEMA program, it could result in floodplain residents not being able to sell their homes because banks won't issue mortgages.
The federal flood insurance is required for federal loan programs such as FHA and the Small Business Administration. Wheatfield United, the local citizens group formed to fight the floodplain additions, has found that the insurance is not technically required on conventional loans, but Walck said in contacting local banks, the town has yet to find one that does not require the insurance in floodplain areas in order to protect their interests.
Homeowners can file individual requests for a letter of map revision if they can show that FEMA's elevation numbers are incorrect. Walck said residents who want to do this might consider banding together to hire a surveyor as a group.
"It's a game of inches," he said.
Walck added that he discovered with his own home that he could legally reduce the flood insurance premium as he paid the mortgage rate down. It's up to the bank and it is a risk of not being fully covered if there is a flood. "I'm going to roll the dice," Walck said.
One resident suggested that a canal be built through Wheatfield to drain it into the Niagara River. Walck said that it wouldn't be practical, and that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is already causing problems with the town's attempts to clean ditches, wouldn't approve it.
After the meeting, residents were willing to discuss their opinions with the Tribune, but didn't want their names used.
"My house is out; my grass is in," said one noting that he didn't want to alert his bank to that fact. "I think it's a fiasco. It's just a ploy for government to take money away from people."
Another said the high premiums and the addition of so many homes to the floodplain are just a way for FEMA to pay for disasters in other areas of the country, such as Hurricane Katrina in the south.
"It's a scam," one woman concluded.