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News Franklin continues to dispute FEMA floodplain

According to town officials, properties that have already had permits issued and begun development will be “grandfathered in” when Franklin adopts the FEMA guidelines.The Town of Franklin Board of Aldermen are having a tough time figuring out whether or not they should adopt a floodplain ordinance for the town.

In the event of a major flood, the delay could cost property owners who do not qualify for federal protections from flooding. But the same property owners, wary of the extra cost of the FEMA program, dispute recent floodplain maps released by the federal agency.

On Monday, aldermen held a continuation meeting and explored the matter. Aldermen decided not to make a decision on whether they support adopting an ordinance, but commissioned another study to question the accuracy of FEMA’s designated floodplains.

As part of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), property owners within counties or municipalities which adopt flood plain ordinances compliant with FEMA mapping standards are eligible for flood insurance at federally discounted rates.

“The Federal Govenment has a guarantee of payment,” said Town Manager Sam Greenwood. “It lessens the issuance cost to the private insurers to be able to insure in the flood plain or flood way ... It means cheaper insurance, whereas now most flood coverage is excluded from this area.”

The catch is that if the ordinance is adopted, property owners would be required to purchase flood insurance in the event that they choose to develop their land. Just as in years past, aldermen were reluctant to recognize a floodplain ordinance as necessary, considering the extra insurance costs for owners of property that falls in the federally designated flood zones. The ordinance would also prohibit developers in a flood plain from filling in land which could shift the flow of water, affecting adjacent properties in the process.

“Because of the history on the properties, the owners feel that the maps are inaccurate because they’ve never experienced a flood,” said Town Planner Michael Grubermann of the property owners within the flood zone.

“It really affects commercial property a lot more than it affects residential property.” – Lamar Sprinkle, local land surveyor

The Town of Franklin is not currently participating in the National Flood Insurance Program, although the county is. When building within town limits, one is not required to build to NFIP standards. With no flood ordinance in Franklin, property owners may build with few restrictions. Outside the town limits and within Macon County however, one must build at least two feet above flood elevation.

Some landowners who hold commercial stakes in the FEMA flood zones attended the meeting to urge aldermen to dispute the maps. “It really affects commercial property a lot more than it affects residential property,” said local land surveyor Lamar Sprinkle, who owns a business west of Phillips Street. His property has not endured flood damage in the past. Sprinkle cautioned that imposing such an ordinance would stifle commercial development in the floodplain areas by driving up potential development costs.

Properties west of Phillips Street have not experienced floods, says Grubermann, but the lands east of it have.

The Town of Franklin began to consider joining the NFIP in June of 2008 and presented information on the program at both town meetings and public forums. According to floodplain maps that were released at the time, areas of Crawford Branch were in the floodplain and are projected for significant flooding. Since then Crawford Branch has experienced flooding on several occasions.

Now, with some town residents and property owners questioning the accuracy of the new flood maps, aldermen listened and voted to have the state findings reviewed by McGill Associates at a cost of less than $5,000.

Alderman Sissy Patillo consults with town attorney John Henning Jr. on some technicalities of the proposed flood plain ordinance. Photo by Davin EldridgeAccording to McGill, the model used by the state to determine flood zone areas is flawed because it does not take into account the divided stream bed of Crawford Branch, which is routed through numerous culverts. The state model also inaccurately reported the sizes of some of the culverts involved, explained Town Manager Sam Greenwood. “By their own admission they were inaccurate,” he said.

The data used by the state, according to McGill, was not designed to model urban systems with piped streams. Upon numerous site visits and measuring the actual culverts in place, McGill concluded that potential flooding at Crawford Branch will be significantly less than the state suggested.

The Board of Aldermen voted to request a re-study of potential flooding areas in March of 2009. At that time, the state issued a 30-day time frame for municipalities to adopt a floodplain ordinance. During that time residents would be eligible for fullly subsidized flood insurance.

“We balked at these maps from the get-go,” said Grubermann. “They just ignored us. They basically let the clock run, we responded by asking them for a delay of implementation ... they ignored that letter,” he said, recalling that it took a year to receive a response from the State.

Landowners that develop their property after a flood ordinance is enacted would be held to extra standards than those currently in place. “The amount of flood insurance they purchase would be contingent upon the elevation of their land and the value of their land,” explained Grubermann.

Any developed properties existing prior to an enacted flood insurance ordinance would be grandfathered in.

Aldermen want to know who stands to benefit from the ordinance, and who does not. So Grubermann will be gathering such information to be available by the next meeting. In June, aldermen will vote on whether they will hold a public hearing on the matter down the road.


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