WESLEY CHAPEL — Greg and Sandra Haxton stared at the map showing their property.
"It looks like you're out of the flood zone," said the Southwest Florida Water Management District employee who escorted them through the maze of maps on easels that lined the large room at Wesley Chapel High School.
"So we're okay," affirmed Greg Haxton.
The worker told him the maps, which were colored blue and green, were preliminary and subject to change.
"Also subject to Mother Nature," Greg Haxton said.
The news came as a relief to the 56-year-old couple, who moved to the home on Fussell Drive more than 30 years ago.
They were among the crowds who have turned out for a series of workshops sponsored by the water district, also known as Swiftmud. The district has been asked by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to gather information needed to update flood maps, some of which are 10 to 30 years old.
Many are outdated due to changes caused by land use, development and erosion.
The district took aerial photographs and gathered terrain information to identify where water flows and collects. The information was then used to develop computer simulations. The results of the simulations were compared to historical and documented flooding when available to validate the accuracy of the computer model results.
The final versions of the maps are used to determine which property owners must buy flood insurance.
Changes can be costly
In a state in which one out of 10 are on food stamps, property values have plummeted and homeowners' insurance premiums have skyrocketed, having to pay more for any basic living expense hits hard.
"They're trying to make it where Floridians can't live in Florida anymore," Sandra Haxton, a native Floridian.
While the Haxtons left happy, William Henderson wasn't as fortunate.
"No good news for me," the 65-year-old said as he waited on a staffer to show him more information on the computer. Henderson, who lives in the flood-plagued Quail Hollow area, learned that more of his property would be included in the floodplain than just the tiny corner that is now.
"The whole back of my property is going to be in the floodplain," said Henderson, who already had to spend an extra $500 on flood insurance to get his home equity line extended. The self-employed carpenter's finances already are strained, with a daughter in college.
"I really don't know what I'm going to do at this point," he said.
During the meetings, which have been held across Pasco, preliminary models and floodplain information are presented to the public for review and comment. After addressing the comments, the floodplain information will be finalized and presented to the District's Governing Board for permission to develop the preliminary maps for submittal to FEMA.
FEMA will begin its adoption process, which includes technical reviews by FEMA and by Pasco County, more public comment, a 90-day appeals period, and issuance of a letter when the maps will take effect.
Pasco County anticipates adopting new maps starting next year, once the FEMA process is complete. The FEMA process should take nine to 12 months; but based on appeals, can take several years, Swiftmud spokeswoman Robyn Felix said.
The floodplain information will be used by the county for land use and zoning decisions; to help manage development in and around floodplains and wetlands; reduce flood risks; preserve land and water resources; and plan for emergencies. It will also provide valuable information to the public for decisions about purchasing and protecting property.
Residents attend the meetings that correspond to the watershed in which they live. Swiftmud also sent letters to residents telling them which meeting to attend.
Lisa Buie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4604.