Murkowski Urges Relief from FEMA Red Tape for Juneau Development

Senator: Enclosed City Should Not Be Treated as a Coastal City

Senator Lisa Murkowski today reminded the Federal Emergency Management Agency of Alaska’s concerns with the “illogical” and “incorrect” methods being used to determine the flood risk of private homes.  During a Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, Murkowski also stressed how one-size-fits-all FEMA regulations are chilling economic development in Juneau, by including protected shoreline in a category meant to apply to at-risk coastal cities.

Juneau Mapping and Development

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(Murkowski: Will FEMA work with Juneau on this?)

When Murkowski questioned FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate on the frustrations raised by Alaskans in the Capital City, she told him:

The City and Borough of Juneau claim that they should be permitted to develop in the [endangered] zone because they’re in a very protected position as an island community within the Inside Passage there in the Southeast. The National Flood Insurance Policy regulations put an absolute block in the velocity zone. Juneau has acknowledged that it’s going to stifle their ability to develop at all….Is FEMA willing to work with Juneau on this?

Fugate told Murkowski that FEMA was willing to work with Juneau, because they are always seeking to improve and balance their policies.

“Illogical,” “Incorrect” Risk Assessments Causing Flood Insurance Rate Spikes

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(Fugate: New technology will allow for house by house specific flood risk assessment.)

Many homeowners throughout Alaska – in Homer, the Mat-Su Valley, the Interior and Juneau – have told Senator Murkowski that their properties are categorized as being at high flood risk by FEMA, because flood maps are designed crudely by neighborhood or region – regardless of changes in elevation or whether a house is elevated to avoid flood damage.  Making things worse, when property owners question the federal government they are told to provide their own data or information challenging FEMA’s findings at their own cost.  To that point, Murkowski questioned Fugate:

Alaskan homeowners are complaining about what they perceive to be the quality of the data that FEMA relies on that ultimately forces us homeowners to pay for the flood insurance premiums. They’re looking at these maps, and they’re saying these are illogical, they’re inaccurate and FEMA comes back and says well, hire yourself an engineer, get yourself an elevation certificate, file for a LOMA [Letter of Map Amendment] if you don’t like it. And that just further infuriates them, they figure look—you should’ve gotten the facts right in the first place rather than having them pay for something they don’t necessarily want. So the question to you this afternoon is whether or not the Act we had passed has provided FEMA with any new tools to improve the quality of maps so we can get it right the first time?

Administrator Fugate informed Senator Murkowski that because of the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act which was recently signed into law and innovations in technology, the tools that FEMA uses to assess threat risk and insurance rates will be dramatically improved in the near future.