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Castle Rock contesting FEMA flood maps

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The Castle Rock City Council is formally appealing a recent study by FEMA which found certain local properties are within flood hazard zones, requiring affected property owners to purchase flood insurance by next year.

Part of a regular update to the Cowlitz County Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM), a draft of proposed changes was first shared with officials and property owners during a March 26 open house hosted by FEMA in Kelso, and so far four property owners have reached out to City Hall to appeal what they see as inaccurate surveying techniques potentially harming their properties’ values.

"There are some really gross errors on these maps," stated former City Planner TJ Keiran in summary of the open house during the council’s April 14 meeting, stating features such as drainage ditches were being identified as flood hazard areas, and the boundaries around floodplains seemed to be arbitrarily drawn. "It’s doesn’t follow the natural terrain whatsoever."

Keiran, who has since moved out of state, told the council at that time it was his recommendation to seek the cooperation of FEMA engineers and make FIRM revisions outside the appeals process, stating an official appeal could delay the FIRM update and "upset the apple cart."

Keiran suggested a deadline of May 26 to seek cooperation from FEMA before filing an appeal, and, after the deadline passed without desired results, the council considered and unanimously approved an appeal letter during their May 27 meeting, which is expected to have been drafted sometime last week.

"I would say this is a significant impact to the people living there," stated Council Member Lee Kessler May 27 of the potential impact of the FIRM. "We should absolutely support [an appeal]."

Among affected property owners seeking an appeal is resident Roy Hensen, who lives on Larson Ln., and said he and his neighbors share concerns regarding FEMA’s proposed revisions.

"If I’m going to be required to carry flood insurance, you’re talking $400 a month," Hensen told the council April 14 after also having attended the open house. "That affects the ability to sell the house then because the person who wants buys the house has got to pay the mortgage plus $400. You’re going to kill the real estate market in the south end of town."

Other properties affected by the proposed FIRM include a subdivision on Green Acres Way, and an under-developed property at the intersection of PH 10 and Mosier Rd.

Public Works Superintendent Dave Vorse, who is spearheading the appeal until the city contracts with a new planner, said solutions for many of these properties may simply be to fill in nearby drainage ditches identified as flood hazards, if FEMA does not re-draw their map. He added that a site-specific topographical survey provided by Hensen, and composed by Kelso-based Hampstur Corp., is likely to go a long way during the appeal.

"The concern that we have at this point is staff are limited in what we can actually do in supporting peoples’ claims," said Vorse May 27, stating assistance from affected property owners, such as the survey, will greatly benefit the potential success of an appeal.

The deadline to appeal FEMA’s FIRM revisions is June 24, and those who are seeking to be included in Castle Rock’s appeal process should call City Hall at (360) 274-8181.

FEMA contractors have reported a final letter of determination regarding the proposed FIRM revisions is scheduled to be made available this September or October, while the revisions to the FIRM are scheduled to become effective April or May of next year, though scheduled dates remain subject to change.

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