New flood maps could soak Basalt property owners | AspenTimes.com

New flood maps could soak Basalt property owners

BASALT ” Some Basalt property owners could be hit with higher insurance premiums because of new flood plain maps adopted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Longtime Basalt businessman Bob Myers said FEMA’s last revisions to its Flood Insurance Rate Maps cost him thousands of dollars in higher insurance premiums. He believes this latest revision will hit the pocketbooks of other unsuspecting property owners on the south side of the Basalt Bypass.

“I don’t think it’s going to be cheap,” he lamented.

FEMA updated its flood plain maps for all of Eagle County this year. The last major revision was performed in 1987.

Those maps are critical to property owners in flood-prone areas like Basalt. The town participates in the National Flood Insurance Program, or NFIP, to ensure that private property owners can obtain coverage. Left to the free market, flood insurance might be price prohibitive, if not impossible to obtain.

FEMA requires Basalt to meet some minimum standards to qualify for NFIP. It must adopt the latest FEMA flood plain maps and regulate land use accordingly.

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The Town Council took those steps at its meeting Tuesday night despite misgivings expressed by Myers.

He said he constructed his building for an architectural metal fabricating business in 1985 before Highway 82 was rerouted around town. His site was down in the boondocks south of town at the time.

Myers used the latest FEMA information available in the mid-’80s and followed town regulations for flood plain development as well. His business consistently paid about $2,000 per year in flood insurance premiums from 1986 through 1994.

In 1987, FEMA updated its Flood Insurance Rate Maps, and apparently made minor revisions in following years that reflected the consequences of a new bridge across the Roaring Fork River for the Basalt Bypass.

Myers said he was presented with an insurance bill for $68,000 when he went to renew in 1995. His carrier said the high rate represented new risks that FEMA suddenly felt were posed to his site, according to Myers. He eventually negotiated the price down to $8,000.

Myers blamed the Colorado Department of Transportation’s bridge construction for the abrupt change in premiums. A levee that was created just upstream of the bridge doesn’t comply with FEMA regulations for surviving a major flood. The federal agency suspects water barreling down the river would spill into the developments south of the bypass and swamp lower parts.

The 2007 FEMA map reflects concerns about potential south side flooding. Myers said the new map doesn’t show any changes to his business site, but it affects undeveloped land he owns in that area. He has studied the maps and said it also affects businesses around Big O Tires in major ways.

Town engineer Larry Thompson told the council in a memo that some properties will experience changes because of the new maps.

“There may be changes in flood insurance rates, both increases and decreases, to private properties within the town based on the updated [Flood Insurance Rate Maps],” Thompson wrote.

But he also noted that not approving the maps would have broader consequences. He wrote that “flood insurance won’t be available to property owners in the town and future flood damage to properties could have substantial financial implications to affected property owners.”

Myers suggested that the state government should alter its upper bypass bridge and shore up the levee to ease FEMA’s concerns about flooding on the south side. Basalt Mayor Leroy Duroux, who has a long history on the board, was sympathetic to his concerns. He said the altered flooding patterns were an “unintended consequence” of the bridge.

The town government and CDOT have wrangled over the upper bypass bridge’s affects on flooding since the mid-1990s. A water engineering firm, hired by the town to assess flood risk, pointed to the bridge as one of the biggest problems. The construction encourages “bed loading,” or extreme deposits of rocks at the bridge, the consultant said. The bridge is built at an angle where it also tends to trap trees and debris flowing down during high water, the study found.

As a result, the bridge interferes with the Roaring Fork River’s flow and increases flood potential, the consultant concluded. A peer review of that study widely agreed with conclusions about the bridge.

CDOT officials denied for years that there were design flaws. The town budgeted funds for possible litigation in 2005. CDOT softened its stance and outlined plans for maintenance steps, like clearing rock and sand from between piers, to ease flooding potential. However, there have not been substantial changes with the bridge.

FEMA’s new flood plain maps can be viewed at Town Hall.

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