BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County property owners take heed: More than 24,000 parcels of land are about to be designated as flood risks for the first time.
With that come new requirements for expensive flood insurance and new building codes.
The county, the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have been working for several years on new flood maps for the county. The preliminary maps are now available for viewing.
Next week, the agencies will hold a two-day open house to tell property owners which parcels will now be in a "special flood hazard area.''
"These people are already living in a flood risk area and just don't realize it,'' said county water resource specialist John Burnett.
It was unclear just how many properties in Hernando County are now listed as being in a flood zone, but records show that 4,696 property owners pay a total of $3.7 million in flood insurance premiums. That averages out to $787 per parcel.
At the open house, residents will be able to talk to the representatives about the changes, and information will be available on how to challenge the conclusions. The map approval process gives residents 90 days to challenge. Final approval of the maps cannot move forward until those challenges are all settled.
The county will also have time to update its ordinances to match the new maps. The entire process is expected to take months and could stretch into late 2011.
The new information brings the county "out of the dark ages'' of the old maps, Burnett said.
The maps in use now were drawn in 1984 and were based on a review of just three parts of the county known for flooding hazard: The coastal zones, prone to coastal surge; the Withlacoochee River area, known for river flooding; and a zone north of Brooksville running down U.S. 41 that had some historical flooding including the Masaryktown flood in the 1950s, Burnett told the County Commission recently.
The 148 new maps created have an aerial photograph background showing more detail than the old maps. They were drawn after detailed watershed studies.
Some of the changes can also be attributed to the county's growth from a population of 44,000 in the 1980s to 165,000 today. Those additional residents mean extra development that has changed the lay of the land.
Several years ago, the mapping project raised concerns from numerous business and residential interests. The early mapping process had not considered the types of soils in various areas and how fast water would filter through those soils. That percolation factor has been added into the formula.
Burnett reminded commissioners that, just because someone lives in an area not threatened by lakes, rivers or the gulf doesn't mean that flooding isn't a threat. Anyone whose property is at the bottom of the hill, for example, could be in trouble.
The case in point is the Canopy Oaks Road property, where a property owner who thought the parcel was high and dry spent $200,000 building a home on the site only to have it destroyed by flood waters from the remnants of hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in 2004. Eventually the county ensured no one would ever build in that spot again by buying the property through a FEMA grant.
For property owners whose land is mortgaged through federally backed lenders, a designation that the site is in the flood zone will require the owner to purchase flood insurance.
For those who aren't in a flood zone on the maps still in use but will be under the new ones, there is a special provision. If those owners have flood insurance before the maps change, there is a discount once they do change.
In addition, lenders for properties adjacent to flood-prone parcels can now require flood insurance.
The new maps might also help with the county's flood rating, which determines flood insurance cost. Currently, the county is rated a 7 but that is slated to become a 6 because of the county's adoption of stringent flood mitigation rules.
For every one-point reduction from a rating of 10, policy holders get a 5 percent discount on their flood insurance.
The map changes will ultimately help people decide how and where to build and how to mitigate if a residence or business is at risk of flooding. The bottom line, Burnett said, is "Hernando County will be a safer place to live.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.