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Flood maps topic for Muncy business association

By Staff | Feb 13, 2015

Fran McJunkin from Muncy and Deputy Director for the Lycoming County Planning Commission gave an overview last Thursday night to the Muncy business community, and what property owners need to know about the recent modified provisions of the county flood maps.

MUNCY – Muncy is an area that is going through a re-mapping eligibility reform for the National Flood Insurance Program. “It is important to know if you are at risk and if your location falls under the re-mapping,” said Fran McJunkin to several Muncy business owners at this month’s annual meeting. Using the latest technology, McJunkin, who serves as Deputy Director for the County’s Planning Commission, displayed the depth grids that are used to determine the flood plains. The County is cooperating with the Technical Partner Risk Map program which uses light imaging radar to determine accurate topographical levels. “The technology is accurate, but not perfect, but it is as good as you can get for the state,” she said. Digital elements can determine how much water will come into a structure if there is a flood. “The elevation of floods are on two feet contours,” McJunkin explained.

“The base step grid models have not changed since the early 70’s,” she stated. “What has changed, was flood insurance.” It is still based on these existing flood elevations. Flood Insurance Rate Maps, known as FIRMS, for a given area might not accurately portray current flood risks, especially if the maps are more than 10 years old.

A study was done in 1977 and 78 to determine the total amount of water that can possibly come down the Susquehanna River. “This is the back water effect,” she said, “and Muncy is not on the same level as Muncy Creek.”

The three largest floods that took place in Muncy were river floods. “The original models were made from punch cards and often these cards got in the wrong place, and a mistake made no sense.” 1972 was the last time the river level rose to flooding in Muncy. The other two times took place in 1889 and in 1936 when it flooded twice in one year. After 1980 the maps were built on flood plain regulations.

Since 1978 there have been 5 million flood claims in Muncy, but only 2 million in Jersey Shore. Both towns are along the river, but Muncy is at a lower flood plain. “Jersey Shore sits higher with more repetitive creek flooding.”

Meanwhile the determined water levels have dropped three feet and the county is using more accuracy to determine flood levels. The base level is now 503 feet, down from 505. “Maps are a regulatory document.” The hard part is convincing FEMA to correct them from an engineering perspective. “They fall under a lot of Congressional regulations,” said McJunkin.

When it comes to flood plains, Muncy is a “bowl.” 35 structures in Muncy are no longer determined to be in the flood plain. “It’s the height of the water in the ground outside, not the flood plain itself,” she explained. Ten percent of Lycoming County structures are in the flood plain, or 5,300 properties. 90 percent of them were built before 1981 and are no longer compliant to current standards. Over 200 properties have been acquired through the Lycoming County Flood Mitigation program. Funding from the state will continue for buyouts of repetitively damaged properties, and some funding is also available for demolition costs. All parties have to agree and the process takes about 16 months.

Older buildings are affected the most, as basements should not be in the flood plain. Insurance rates start at $1,000 per foot below the flood plain. The Muncy Historical Society said that everything that was stored in the basement has been moved up to higher levels.

The rates have gradually increased over the years and the Biggert-Waters Act of 2012 eliminated all grandfather clauses. “Not all flood plains are created equal. The legislation just treats everybody equally.”

The lowest adjacent grade is the most important number to know. “If higher than 500 feet, you’re out. If lower than 499, you’re in. Not all the flood insurance rates are actuarial. It is a declining risk pool,” McJunkin further explained.

She added, “Know the low spots of your structure. Inches matter.”

FEMA has accepted elevated basements when all four sides are above the grade. The OIP in Muncy was built to FEMA standards, however, the garage doors do not count for flood insurance. Because of the equal pressure, all four sides need to be vented for flood insurance if below the grade. This also includes basements or they won’t qualify.

Elevation certificates can be acquired to show if a property is eligible for exclusion from newly mapped high risk flood zones. Meanwhile policy premiums will increase 20 percent each year.

McJunkin wants to stop the increases and put long term low interest loans together for those homes that require flood insurance. She is also hoping to tap into some River Towns funding. “There is 8 million to tap into, and I am working on this stop gap measure. Pennsylvania is the second most flooded state and carries the worst for flood insurance.”

The new flood maps will be effective by the end of this year, or up to the following June.