When the Federal Emergency Management Agency unveiled revised flood maps for Valley Stream two weeks ago, about 1,600 families breathed a sigh of relief. No longer would they be saddled with high insurance premiums, or diminished property values. About 1,000 homeowners, however, weren’t so lucky. They remain in the newly drawn flood zone.
Now come some tough decisions. Under federal legislation passed last year, which required that FEMA redraw Nassau County’s maps using local, relevant data, municipalities were given the option of challenging the new maps. Valley Stream village officials have indicated that they are unlikely to do so, out of concern that it would cause a delay for those hundreds of homes slated to come out of the high-risk zone.
We encourage village officials not to dismiss a challenge of the maps just yet. They have three months to make a decision on filing a Letter of Map Revision. This is a decision that should be made carefully and thoughtfully. We think village officials should take the pulse of the residents, both in and out of the flood zone, to determine whether they should file a formal challenge.
Yes, contesting the maps could have short-term ramifications for the residents who will be removed from the zone, and the cost to these homeowners must be considered carefully, especially if insurance rates are going to jump. However, accepting the new maps will have costly long-term implications for those who remain in the flood zone.
In 2009, the village did not challenge the maps that added about 2,500 Valley Stream homes to the flood zone. In hindsight, that may have been a mistake, but it was a decision made with inaccurate information given to the village. Officials then had been told that residents who purchased flood insurance before the September 2009 adoption of the maps would be “grandfathered in,” i.e., they would remain in their current zone. But they still were compelled to pay the rates for the higher-risk zone.
So, in 2010, when residents started getting flood insurance bills in excess of $2,000 a year — even those who bought policies ahead of time — the outrage was not surprising.
Hurricane Sandy was a good test of the flood maps. It showed that there are areas, like Gibson, that never belonged in the flood zone, as many resident claimed.
It’s good that the hard work and relentless fighting of residents, village officials and federal representatives has finally yielded some positive results for Valley Streamers. There is still work to be done, though, to ensure that every home that doesn’t belong in the flood zone is removed. Ultimately, the changes can only be made at the federal level, but progress won’t come without direction from those in Valley Stream who know the community best.