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FEMA hears challenge to flood plain

Relief may be on the way for some South Buffalo homeowners facing flood insurance requirements that can cost more than $800 a year.

City officials estimate that $30 million in flood insurance premiums has been collected from residents over 47 years even though no homeowner has made a claim in that period.

About 90 percent of the nearly 2,700 properties previously in the flood plain were taken out following initial reviews of an updated local Flood Insurance Rate Map. But many were added.

On Friday, city and federal officials met with representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to try to persuade the agency to remove the remaining property owners from the list.

"This has not been fair for 40 years," South Council Member Michael P. Kearns said.

Kearns explained that the insurance requirements make it difficult for homeowners to improve or invest in their homes because new loans and grants trigger flood insurance. In addition, the requirement has deterred new businesses because it increases operating costs.

In June, Kearns and Lovejoy Council Member Richard A. Fontana surveyed homeowners in South Buffalo and Kaisertown to determine who was affected by the flood insurance requirements. The information then was presented to federal representatives.

"We gave them hard data that showed these people should not be paying this progressive tax," Kearns said.

Since then, FEMA has redrawn flood zone maps for the city, taking off the list about 90 percent of residences that had been required to carry flood insurance.

Friday, Kearns, Fontana and a representative from the office of Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., took FEMA officials on a tour of improvements in South Buffalo and West Seneca designed to decrease the flood threat.

"It's essential that FEMA understands adding homes . . . to the latest flood map was an unwise decision that could lead to families there being saddled with sky-high insurance rates," Schumer said in a statement. "We've made great strides in improving this map. . . . Now we must pressure FEMA to take the final step to complete the job."

The first stop on the tour was Stevenson Street Bridge, which crosses Cazenovia Creek. The Common Council spent $800,000 to raise the bridge and install concrete banks. The improvements keep the creek within its boundaries, officials explained.

"The bridge was a major choke point on that part of Cazenovia Creek," Fontana said, adding that the new banks help prevent erosion into Buffalo River. "Any flooding will stay within the channel."

The other stop on the tour was an ice-retention structure further upstream in West Seneca, which helps keep water flowing freely.

"The improvements were extremely important," said FEMA's Mary Colvin. "That's one of the reasons we're here. We're sensitive and aware of the issues" in the area.

News Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski contributed to this report.


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