Roughly 62,000 Hillsborough County properties could soon have a new flood zone designation.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency released new proposed flood maps for coastal parts of Hillsborough and Manatee counties. Updated for the first time in nearly 30 years, the maps better reflect the flooding risk homes and businesses face.
"The biggest reason for doing (the update) is that technology has changed," said Mark Vieira, senior engineer at FEMA. "A lot more data goes into the study than it did 30 years ago."
That data shows that many areas along the coast could soon be rated as having a greater risk of flooding than older maps indicate. Hillsborough County hazard mitigation manager Eugene Henry said many properties affected may have already been considered at risk of flooding, but the new maps show the risk is even greater than previously believed. Those properties could face an average of 1 foot to 3 feet of additional flooding. Ruskin and Apollo Beach saw some of the largest increases, he said, as did Town 'N Country.
Hillsborough County sent about 35,000 letters to property owners who could be affected in unincorporated areas, Henry said. The city of Tampa mailed about 27,000 notices to its residents, flood plain administrator Dave Jennings said.
To help homeowners and members of the community understand how their properties will be affected, Hillsborough County and FEMA are holding three open houses. Pinellas and Pasco counties held their open houses last year, while Hernando County held its open house in January.
"These three meetings are extremely important," Hillsborough's Henry said. "I can't stress that enough."
Attendees also will be able to ask questions about their personal situation and speak with representatives from the National Flood Insurance Program to understand their flood insurance needs. For some, that may mean purchasing a policy for the first time if the new maps ultimately are approved.
Even if a home or business no longer requires flood insurance, said Lynne McChristian, spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute, owners may want to consider buying a policy. Inland residents and businesses could still be at risk for flooding during heavy rainfalls, like those inundated in Houston during Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
"Nobody likes to pay for flood insurance," McChristian said. "Nobody likes to pay for insurance in general, but the whole point of insurance is to protect your finances."
If cost is an issue, McChristian said, consider insuring just the structure of a home or business instead of the possessions inside.
Hillsborough County's maps won't be finalized for more than a year. FEMA is required by law to cover a few bases first, such as putting two notices in the newspaper and filing a notice in the Federal Register. It also must hold a mandatory 90-day appeal period to allow for public comment and appeals.
"An appeal is not, 'I don't like the maps,'" FEMA's Vieira said.
Instead, he said, they are meant to point out any flaws in the science or assumptions used to create the maps. In one appeal Vieira remembered, a parking lot was built during the course of the study that wasn't accounted for on a map. The appeal alerted the federal agency to include it.
Contact Malena Carollo at email@example.com or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo.
Want to go?
Open houses to view the flood maps and understand how they would affect your property will be held at the following dates and locations:
• April 3: Jan Kaminis Platt Regional Library, 3910 S. Manhattan Ave.; 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
• April 4: Jan Kaminis Platt Regional Library, 3910 S. Manhattan Ave.; 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
• April 4: Riverview Civic Center, 11020 Park Dr.; 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.