Sandy adds to criticism of Nassau flood map

Joe Margolin, right, and Carol Crupi stand on

Joe Margolin, right, and Carol Crupi stand on Gibson Boulevard, an area that FEMA designated the highest flood zone rating in its remapping in 2009. (Nov. 28 2012) (Credit: Johnny Milano)

Superstorm Sandy caused widespread flooding on Long Island, but residents of two South Shore Nassau neighborhoods who have argued that their homes should never have been designated by the federal government as being in a flood-prone area are saying, "I told you so."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency in 2009 revised its map of sections likely to flood in a major storm. The map included much larger areas along the South Shore in Nassau, creating an outcry from residents with mortgages who complained that they had no choice but to buy federal flood insurance at much higher prices than in the past.

The protests were loudest in Valley Stream and Massapequa Park, which turned out to be beyond the reach of Sandy's floodwaters, residents and local officials say.

No flooding

In Valley Stream's Gibson neighborhood, where 2,500 homes were added to the map even though their owners insisted they had never been flooded, community leader Carol Crupi said, "There was absolutely no flooding. Not even large puddles. That is the best evidence we can have that we are not supposed to be in the high-risk flood zone."

She said only the southernmost portion of Valley Stream near the water was flooded.

"The stigma of being in a high-risk flood zone impacts the property values for every person put there," Crupi said.

There were also complaints after the release of the 2009 map in the northern portion of Massapequa Park near the Massapequa Preserve. The area was included because of the low elevation and the presence of a creek running through the preserve into the bay.

"There was no water at all [from Sandy]," Massapequa Park Mayor James Altadonna said. "There were 6 inches of water in the stream, and throughout the whole storm it remained that way. That tells me that the maps need to be re-examined."

Asked about water on Aster Street, community leader Margery Weinroth responded: "Zip. My crawl space is dusty -- that's how dry it was. No one on the block had flooding. By 9 o'clock the morning after, there wasn't a puddle on the street. I think we got a very raw deal" from FEMA.

Seeking change

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) responded to the complaints by introducing legislation that passed Congress last summer to require FEMA to review and revise the maps. FEMA was making changes when Sandy came calling, so the 2009 map was still in effect.

"If a once-in-a-hundred-year storm didn't damage these houses," Schumer said in a statement, "it makes a really strong argument as to why the most recent flood maps were not accurate and not based on the best available science and locally generated data. I expect the updated maps will better reflect the reality on the ground."

East Rockaway was the only Long Island municipality to officially challenge the 2009 maps -- unsuccessfully.

Village officials said they were busy dealing with the aftermath of the storm and couldn't comment on the map's storm surge predictions.

FEMA spokesman Donald Caetano said, "Right now FEMA's efforts are directed at supporting the state and local governments in taking care of survivors of Sandy and recovery operations."

He added that the agency will review "whether or not the flood maps held true. That's part of the damage assessment we have to do after any disaster."

Caetano said that before the storm, FEMA planned a community meeting in Valley Stream this month or next to update residents on revising the map. That session will now be delayed.

The flood maps are based on the surge estimated to be created by a storm of the severity expected once every 100 years.

Data being collected

Jay Tanski, New York State Sea Grant Extension Program senior coastal processes specialist, said, "The data we are looking at indicates that this storm was worse than what they call a 100-year storm. It was significantly higher than that. This would be somewhere between the 200-year and 500-year event."

He said it's impossible to be more specific until all the data from tide gauges in the bays are collected in the next few weeks. Then FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will issue a map showing the actual storm surge.

Schumer's bill passed in June, and the revisions are expected to remove many homes along Nassau's southwestern shoreline from the map, saving their owners hundreds and even thousands of dollars on flood insurance premiums.

In preparing the 2009 map, FEMA, in a cost-saving effort, used information extrapolated from a report for Suffolk County. It caused homeowners with mortgages to spend up to $3,000 annually for flood insurance after they had paid $300 or $400 before the changes. The legislation required FEMA to revise the map using "Nassau-specific data."

The 2009 map placed more than 90,000 Nassau and Suffolk buildings in flood-hazard zones. After the 2009 remapping, 347 Long Island residents filed appeals challenging their homes' inclusion. Ninety-two appeals were approved; the rest were denied or dropped, FEMA said.

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