A flood of change

When Jim Simonds' house on North Mountain Avenue was built five years ago, it was outside the Federal Emergency Management Agency's 100-year flood zone. In September, that will change.

Simonds' home, bordering Bear Creek, is one of 511 Ashland properties that will be affected by FEMA's new floodplain maps, which utilize newer data and technology to more accurately predict where flooding is likely to occur.

"We were above the 100-year floodplain when the house was built," Simonds said. "Who would have expected this?"

The map changes could mean higher insurance rates and lower property values for some Ashland parcels.

Properties inside a 100-year flood zone have a 1 percent chance of flooding every year. Theoretically, they would see a flood once every 100 years.

"The likelihood of a flood occurring within a 100-year stretch of time is very, very high, but there's no way to predict when the next flood will occur," FEMA documents state.

Mortgages holders on properties located in 100-year flood zones are required to have flood insurance.

As a whole, the new maps will shift flood zones slightly to the west and reduce the number of high-risk floodplain areas in Ashland, said Amy Gunter, an assistant planner with the city. The maps were last updated in 1981, she said.

The new maps will allow residents and city officials to better prepare for floods, said Brandon Goldman, senior planner with the city.

"I think that the risk is there whether the maps reflect it or not, but with more accurate information people will have a better idea of what risks they're facing," he said. "The better information, the better decisions can be made."

At least two dozen properties that were previously outside of a flood zone, such as Simonds' home along Bear Creek, will soon be in the 100-year zone.

Homeowners who obtain flood insurance before the map changes take effect in September can lock in the lower rates under the National Flood Insurance Program's grandfathering rules.

"We're directing people to get more information before it's too late," Goldman said.

Because Ashland has taken more measures to protect against floods than are required by federal law, property owners in the city are eligible for a 15 percent discount on flood insurance, Gunter said.

Ashland's new maps are part of FEMA's nationwide effort to revise outdated flood maps, she said.

The Planning Commission held a meeting Tuesday to study the new maps. The commission will hold a public hearing on the maps on June 8. The City Council will hold another public hearing on the matter in July.

Property owners who wish to send comments directly to FEMA on the mapping changes have until May 6 to do so.

"If someone wanted to hire a hydrologist and a surveyor, they can submit that information to FEMA, and possibly have the map reevaluated," Goldman said.

Ashland has seen at least three floods in the past 100 years, in 1964, 1974 and 1997, Gunter said. The city did not track flood data prior to 1964, she said.

The 1997 flood, a large-scale disaster, shut down Ashland's water treatment plant and caused $4.5 million in damages, Gunter said.

Ben Jamison, Simonds' neighbor on North Mountain Avenue, said he'll look into getting flood insurance because he's seen the damage floods can do in the Rogue Valley.

"I think anybody along a floodplain needs to look at insurance and weigh the costs and risks," he said. "It's kind of foolish if you don't."

To view the new FEMA maps visit the city's Community Development Building, 51 Winburn Way, or see ashland.or.us/femaupdate. For more information contact Gunter at 541-552-2044 or guntera@ashland.or.us. To send comments to FEMA, call 1-877-336-2627 or visit www.fema.gov/plan/prevent/fhm.

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.

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