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New flood maps put Plano church in danger
St. Andrew United Methodist Church is one of the largest churches in Collin County as the church's campus spans several acres in western Plano along White Rock Creek.
While the creek adds beauty to the grounds, it is now also potentially making the church's $22 million sanctuary uninsurable because of new flood maps released by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"The floodplain in the area of our church has been raised 5 feet from the previous floodplain study," said Steve Robertson, executive pastor at St. Andrew. "This puts our sanctuary and other parts of our property in the floodplain. We are currently insured, but when the floodplain becomes effective we will not be able to get flood insurance through anyone other than FEMA."
Robertson said FEMA insurance would cost the church about $500,000 per year, which is significantly higher than what the church currently pays for flood insurance.
While no law requires homeowners and business owners to purchase flood insurance, Gerald Cosgrove, the city of Plano's public works director, said mortgage companies typically require properties in the floodplain to carry flood insurance to help protect their investments. Cosgrove added that FEMA rates the city of Plano in the top 6 percent nationwide in regards to flood preparedness, resulting in a 25 percent decrease in flood insurance costs.
FEMA released the preliminary maps in late September and is accepting comments and objections to the maps until Dec. 19.
However, a problem with the postcards sent out by the city of Plano to 340 potentially affected households prevented many from finding out that their properties are now in the flood zone. St. Andrew, for example, didn't receive notice until Monday, Robertson said.
While residents have the option of appealing, Gerald Cosgrove, the city's public works director, said the process is typically not worth the hassle.
"It is a technical process where you have to show technically why you are not in the floodplain," he said. "For the average homeowner, there is really no way to do that. The cost is so great that for you to individually is not worth it."
Cosgrove said it would prove extremely costly for the city to perform its own study on the maps, costing anywhere from $150,000 to $700,000 depending on how in-depth the study was.
The city will likely choose to study some of the smaller watersheds and see if the numbers are the different than those FEMA came up with, he said. If they are, the city may ask FEMA to re-examine its maps.
After the appeal period ends next month, the city's last remaining option is to request a scientific review of the maps, Cosgrove said. If changes were not made after the scientific review, the new maps would likely go into effect.
At St. Andrew, the church is hoping there was simply an error with the model used by FEMA that can be corrected. Church member Thomas Juhn, an engineer, has studied the issue and feels something is not adding up.
Juhn said he fears properties in the new floodplain will lose value, while some undeveloped properties will become less attractive to potential buyers. All of this, he said, will result in the city losing money long-term.
"I think there are some legitimate questions with the floodplain and that an analysis needs to be done," Juhn told the city council Monday night. "If there are property owners losing value, and with the city's future revenue at stake, I think it is an analysis worth doing."
Robertson said his major concern was that hundreds of residents will be affected by the new floodplains, with little to no recourse.
"If they stick with what they've got there is going to be millions of dollars of property affected," he said. "All anybody wants is to know that before a ruling is rendered and so many lives are affected, they want the assurance it wasn't simply a formulaic decision. I know studies are expensive, but did they really have boots on the ground walking the creeks?"
To verify if individual properties are now in the floodplain, visit maps.riskmap6.com/TX/Collin. For information on the appeals process, call the city of Plano Public Works Department at 972-941-7152.
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