A levee that protects residents of West Terre Haute is facing de-accreditation from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, meaning that a majority of homeowners in the town will be required to buy flood insurance if accreditation is not re-established.

While the levee, constructed in the early 1970s, may be in good operating condition, it lacks required federal documentation that allows the town to be listed as a moderate flood insurance risk. It is the only FEMA-certified levee in Vigo County.

Without its accreditation, an estimated 787 parcels in the town will be classified as a high insurance risk area and flood insurance will be required of any homeowner with a mortgage, said Roger Denick, an engineer for Strategic Alliance for Risk Reduction (STARR), a consulting group for FEMA.

The average cost of $100,000 of flood insurance is about $500 a year under the National Flood Insurance Program; however, some policies under preferred risk insurance cost between $205 to $263 a year depending on location, according to Allstate’s insurance Web site.

Denick and Mike Hanke, an engineer for FEMA, provided information Monday to members of the West Terre Haute Town Council during a public meeting about FEMA’s de-accreditation process.

The West Terre Haute Levee Association and the Town of West Terre Haute will receive a FEMA de-accreditation letter within a month. The next step will involve changing FEMA’s flood insurance rate map, which will take a minimum of 18 months, followed by a public meeting and a 90-day period for residents to file objections challenging the new map.

For the area to regain its accreditation, a professional engineer must provide data and documentation and sign off that the levee system will provide protection before a new FEMA map is designated.

The engineer, among several requirements, must sign off that the levee is 3 feet above a base flood elevation; an analysis is done that demonstrates there is no appreciable erosion of levee embankments; and that the embankment is stable and that seepage will not jeopardize its foundation.

However, such engineering services could cost $250,000 to $425,000, said Arbie Montgomery, a founding member of the West Terre Haute Levee Association.

“It’s a money game. That levee is in great shape. There is no tree growth, ground squirrels or nothing,” Montgomery said.

“There’s maybe three people in this town that have flood insurance,” Montgomery said. “If you own your home, you don’t have to get the insurance.”

Scott McClain, president of the West Terre Haute Town Council, said that is not the case for the majority of homeowners. “This has to be done and we have to find a way to get accredited,” McClain said.

In addition, while the levee was designed by and will be inspected next month by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, that inspection certification is not enough for FEMA accreditation, Denick said, “unless the Corps of Engineers certifies it” as meeting accreditation standards, a measure not usually taken.

The Corps of Engineers’ inspection documents, however, can be used as supporting evidence in a professional engineer’s report for accreditation, Denick said.

How did de-accreditation happen?

 

FEMA is changing its flood insurance rate maps from paper maps to digital maps, Denick said. Under a 1986 regulation, any changes in these maps require that certified levees meet federal accreditation standards. The flood insurance map for West Terre Haute was last changed in 1983, said Jeremy Weir, executive director of the Vigo County Area Planning Department.

A letter from FEMA was sent to the levee association and copied to the Town Council on Feb. 13, 2007, stating that officials had two years to provide accreditation documentation. A 12-month report was due Nov. 12, 2008. No such report was filed with FEMA.

The final accreditation documentation was due Nov. 12, 2009, but was not filed with FEMA, Denick said, starting the de-accreditation process.

“We have no way of determining if this levee meets the federal standards or not, so we have to initiate the de-accreditation,” Denick said. “FEMA wants to ensure the levee was designed properly and does meet requirements.”

Montgomery said there had been a proposal by the levee association to increase taxes for the engineering documentation, but that was never approved.

McClain said no matter how it happened, the Town Council must now find a solution, “even if that means the town must take over the levee association,” he said. “We are all in this together. We are going to try to figure this out.

“The levee association doesn’t answer to the [town] board, but the board now is going to get very involved to make sure this paperwork gets filed and to make sure we get certified. We are going to check what our options are and we are going to try to find out what funds are available out there, as $425,000 is a lot of money that West Terre Haute doesn’t have,” McClain said.

Town officials, if they cannot get accredited prior to a new FEMA flood insurance rate map being issued, can still work for accreditation, but insurance maps will still be changed until accreditation is certified.

Also of concern for West Terre Haute is that the town does not participate in the National Flood Insurance Program, Hanke said, which would make town residents ineligible for lower-rate flood insurance.

Jeremy Weir, executive director of the Vigo County Area Planning Department, said Vigo County adopted a countywide flood control ordinance in 2006. The Town of West Terre Haute can be included and covered under that ordinance, which would include the National Flood Insurance Program, simply by sending a letter to county commissioners stating the town intends to adopt and participate under the county ordinance, Weir said.

Howard Greninger can be reached at (812) 231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com

 

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