BROOKSVILLE — More than 24,000 Hernando County property owners will soon have their properties classified as flood risks for the first time.
Despite the prospect of higher insurance payments, no one has formally challenged the new maps that designate flood zones.
Perhaps it's because of what property owners would need to bring to the fight if they hope to prevail.
"I've talked to quite a few people who were thinking about making the appeal,'' said John Burnett, county water resource specialist.
"If someone wants to contest and file an appeal against the elevation of the flood plain, the owner would have to provide enough evidence a mistake was done or provide better information,'' Burnett said. "That's a fairly high level of information to provide.''
Once he showed owners what the consultant had done to figure out the flood plains, described the process of peer review and explained how they would have to bring the same level of professional expertise to challenge, there were no takers.
He said some people thought the process was based on simple observation rather than science. After the detailed explanation, they better understood the process.
Burnett explains to those with questions about how they might not have ever seen a storm of the magnitude that would put their properties at risk. He explains that, while they may never have seen water standing on their site, floodwater could come from miles away.
At that point, some simply realized "maybe they're in the flood plain after all,'' he said.
Time is running out to challenge the designations.
March 2 is the final day of the three-month appeals and protests period for the new flood maps that have been developed in recent years by the Southwest Florida Water Management District in partnership with FEMA.
All protests need to be settled before Hernando County can move forward with the next step to implement the maps.
Landing in a flood designation is a big deal for those who don't carry flood insurance but do have a mortgage through federally backed lenders. Those mortgage holders will have to get flood insurance. If they do that before the new maps take effect, they get a discount on the coverage.
There are now 4,707 Hernando County properties with flood insurance policies covering more than $1 billion in property value, county records show. Those property owners pay a total of $3.8 million in premiums or an average of $807 each annually.
While it's difficult to challenge the flood plain designation, it is not impossible.
Burnett said he is filing a challenge on behalf of the county because there was a mistake in calculations for an area at the southern end of Timber Pines. The consultant agreed there was an error, but Burnett is still following through with the formal process to fix the problem.
The new flood maps will replace incomplete maps from 1984. Those maps only looked at three individual portions of the county, the coastal area prone to tidal surge, the area bordering the Withlacoochee River prone to river flooding and a zone north of Brooksville and running along U.S. 41 south toward Masaryktown, which suffered a major flood 60 years ago.
Burnett credited part of the lack of protest to the fact that Swiftmud and FEMA have been talking about the process for years and listening to the input. Early in the process, developers and large-tract landowners learned where developments would work and where they wouldn't.
And in 2006, when the maps generated controversy because the types of soils and speed of water filtering through those soils had not been considered, the consultants went back and made changes.
"It's much more reasonable,'' Burnett said.
The county has several other bureaucratic steps to complete for the final implementation of the maps to take effect. Burnett predicted the maps will be finalized before the end of 2011.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.