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Wet subject means cold cash to some South County residents

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It may be a subject that’s simply all wet, but South Hillsborough property owners can benefit substantially by getting involved in their upcoming collective “shower.”

Flood plain management planning is not exactly entertaining cocktail time repartee for most folks nor inviting dinner conversation for anyone other than the engineering minds, but for residents on the 40 percent of the county’s land mass located in coastal high hazard zones it’s worth millions of dollars – literally. In fact, $5.5 million in the unincorporated county at the present time – and a considerable portion of that amount pads the pockets of the South County.

Melody Jameson photo
Among the numerous efforts by Hillsborough County’s Hazard Mitigation section to maintain its good rating that translates to 25% lower flood insurance premiums for residents in coastal high hazard areas is the storm surge warning sign program. Here Gene Henry (right) hazard mitigation manager, and Linda Mandell,(left) member of the mitigation team, demonstrate the potential force of a hurricane-driven surge of water from Tampa Bay. The storm surge at this site on 19th Avenue at U.S. 41 north of Ruskin could be 23 feet.
Why? Because thousands of South Hillsborough property owners who live close enough to the eastern shore of Tampa Bay or to the shorelines of the Alafia and the Little Manatee Rivers or around any of the region’s lakes able to overflow banks and who therefore must purchase flood insurance due to location in a high hazard area get a 25 percent break on their flood insurance premiums – depending on the county’s flood management planning.

And, the next opportunity for public input on the county’s current draft plan is Thursday, September 2, according to Gene Henry, Hillsborough’s hazard mitigation manager. The meeting site has not yet been pinned down, but the session probably will be held in Gibsonton, he added.

Although there had been no major storm surges or flooding events to inundate Hillsborough County for about 60 years, the county began flood plain management in the early 1980s, Henry said. The area around Tampa Bay has seen the kind of damage wrought by severe flooding only three times in the last two centuries, but the last such event in 1920 put a multi-ton freighter in the middle of downtown Tampa, he added.

Ultimately, the county applied for inclusion in the federal flood insurance program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and was ranked in a “fundamental” category.

Hillsborough also was rated a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10, with one being the best, by an international rating agency known as the Insurance Services Office (ISO) with which FEMA partnered, Henry added. The rating was related to the comprehensive quality of the county’s flood management planning.

In 1990, FEMA instituted a next level and Hillsborough, by virtue of its expanding, improving flood management planning , was able to meet a new community standards rating. Hillsborough currently is a “5,” Henry noted, and flood insurance premiums have declined commensurately for owners in the hazardous areas who have mortgages and therefore are expected to protect both their lenders’ and their own interests,

The county attained and retains its “5” rating by maintaining a number of benchmarks including a stringent land development code, implementation of storm water systems, monitoring the conveyance system of smaller streams, keeping up an environmental lands acquisition program, establishing low density zoning districts, keeping current flood data files and consistently operating a multi-faceted public outreach. All of these factors, involving a number of county departments, contribute to the improved rating given the county by FEMA and ISO and, in turn, to keeping down flood insurance premiums, Henry said.

The county now also is looking toward a “4” FEMA/ISO rating in the next year to 18 months which, again, is expected to reduce flood insurance premiums by another five percent. It is anticipated the new, better rating can be attained by requiring another six inches elevation above sea level for new construction and substantial structural improvements, Henry added.

Meanwhile, hazard mitigation specialists are looking ahead to the September 2 meeting when the shower of information that is the draft plan can be reviewed by the public, particularly by those with a vested interest in its comprehensiveness. Public comment on the goals and activities outlined in the plan will be welcome, the mitigation manager said.

The completed, periodic updating of the flood management plan is to be wrapped up by October 1, he added. If that deadline is not met, the total $5.5 million discount could be lost for at least a year.

Copyright 2010 Melody Jameson
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