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FEMA says review of Nassau flood map data is almost done

Valley Stream resident Cris English reacts to statements

Valley Stream resident Cris English reacts to statements by FEMA officials talking about flood insurance, Thursday. (Oct. 7, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it expects to complete a review of elevation data used for the controversial Nassau County flood zone map within two weeks.

Meanwhile, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill Wednesday to impose a five-year moratorium on banks requiring homeowners with mortgages to purchase flood insurance if they were placed in a flood zone in the latest FEMA map. The bill - similar to one introduced by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola) that has already passed in the House - would phase in the insurance requirement over the five years after the moratorium ended. It would also make low-cost policies available to homeowners who want or need to buy insurance.

In September 2009, FEMA implemented a new Nassau flood map that added 25,000 county homeowners to flood zones. Banks holding mortgages for those owners required them to purchase flood coverage at a cost of up to $2,000 per year.

The maps have been criticized by some Long Island officials for being based on out-of-date and inaccurate data, resulting in areas that have never flooded being included.

FEMA has defended the maps as the product of the best available technology and data. But it agreed at a meeting in Valley Stream in September to spot-check the elevations at 100 locations in Nassau, including 20 in Valley Stream, with ground surveys to see if they match topographical information supplied by Nassau that was based mostly on aerial surveys.

When the results are compiled later this month and released to the public, "we have no doubt that it's going to validate the data that Nassau County provided," said Tim Crowley, FEMA's new regional director for flood mitigation.

But if elevation errors are found, it could remove some of the Nassau properties added to the flood zone from the maps.

Schumer's bill was introduced with Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois. Schumer said he was optimistic about getting it passed this session but acknowledged it may have to be reintroduced next year.

"If we can break the deadlock here we may be able to get it done in December. If not, we will push to get it done early next year," he said.

Schumer said his moratorium would provide time for FEMA to resolve questions raised about the accuracy of the flood maps. "This legislation would provide relief to thousands of Long Island homeowners who have been forced to spend thousands of dollars in additional insurance costs they simply can't afford," he said. "A five-year moratorium and access to cheaper rates will give homeowners the time to challenge these maps more effectively and allow us to more fully examine the methods FEMA used to draft these new maps."

Carol Crupi, a Valley Stream community leader leading the local fight against the new maps, said, "This will give us time to refute the science and methods used by FEMA to place all these homeowners into the flood zone."

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