August 17, 2023 |

Photo – FEMA flood plain map – Bigfoot99 file photo

Saratoga officials held a public meeting Tuesday to address errors in the new federal flood map.

Every five years, the Federal Emergency Management Agency revises the countries flood insurance rate maps to determine whose property is susceptible to flooding. Homes placed in the flood zone by FEMA are required to purchase federal flood insurance through the government. If a homeowner chooses not to buy federal flood insurance, they can encounter serious hardships, such as being ineligible for federal disaster aid and having their lender foreclose on their property.

In 2018, FEMA presented an updated flood insurance map for Saratoga and the surrounding area. Citizens were immediately concerned about how the map seemed to arbitrarily put certain properties in the flood plain while adjacent land wasn’t.

In mid-July, FEMA sent a letter to Carbon County and Saratoga officials saying they are giving people 90 days to send proof that the flood map is incorrect.

On Tuesday, before the regular town council meeting, Mayor Chuck Davis and councilmen Mike Cooley and Jerry Fluty held a sparsely attended public hearing to address concerns over the FEMA map.

Acting as a concerned citizen, former Saratoga council member Jon Nelson said the FEMA map placed properties in the proposed flood plain that weren’t affected by high water levels in 2011. Nelson said twelve years ago, the river rose to 6786.99 feet above sea level. The former council member said FEMA’s 100-year flood prediction is roughly 2.3 inches lower than the actual height of the river in 2011. Nelson said the FEMA map puts buildings unaffected by the 2011 flood in the danger zone.

Nelson said FEMA told him that sandbags prevented the 2011 flood from causing more damage. Nelson said the sandbags didn’t protect water from overflowing the rain gutters in the streets, which are connected directly to the river.

Nelson said errors in the FEMA map were caused by incorrect technical data used in the model. The former council member said a different person could look at the same data and come up with a different conclusion.

Nelson talked about the N value FEMA used to generate the new flood map. The N value for a flood map represents the roughness of the channel and the flood plain. Nelson said changing the N value affects how high a specific volume of water can reach. The former council member said FEMA told him their numbers were taken from a 70-year-old textbook.

Nelson said while he was on the Saratoga town council, he invited FEMA representatives to visit and see, in person, that their data was incorrect. Nelson said FEMA refused his offer to reimburse their travel expenses. Nelson said Carbon County Emergency Manager Lenny Layman sent an official request for FEMA to tour the town. The former council member said the federal agency still refused to perform a site visit.

Nelson said that the town should find a flood modeling expert and have them review the information he has provided. Nelson said the professional could make an alternative flood map to dispute FEMA’s claims.

Nelson said he may be able to put the town in touch with a flood modeling expert in Cheyenne. Mayor Davis asked Nelson to look into the matter.

Mayor Davis said he’s spoken to Wyoming’s federal representatives about FEMA’s maps. The mayor said other Wyoming towns also oppose the federal agency’s findings. Mayor Davis said being contacted by FEMA was the first step in the appeal process, despite the tight time limit.

Saratoga Public Works Director Emery Penner said the new FEMA flood plain map will require the town to create new ordinances. Penner said the town will have to adapt the building permit process to ensure everything conforms with the federal agency’s requirements.

Mayor Davis said he was disappointed that only three other residents, besides Nelson and Penner, attended Tuesday’s public hearing. Nelson said in the past, people haven’t expressed much interest in the FEMA map revisions. The former council member said residents will become involved when they are forced to purchase federal flood insurance.

Mayor Davis asked Nelson and Penner to team up to address the FEMA flood plain map. The mayor said he’ll introduce a motion at a future town council meeting to give them authority to pursue a solution for the town.

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