ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Floodwaters are finally going down across most of Central Florida, but the work is just getting started for county engineers tasked with determining whether new areas need to be added to FEMA flood maps.
Investigative Reporter Karla Ray looked into the process of making those changes and learned that even though we saw some areas flood for the first time in decades, that doesn’t mean those neighborhoods will be added to the flood plain.
For the days and weeks that followed Hurricane Ian, we saw water in places homeowners say they never expected; places that were unpredictable because they were out of FEMA’s mapped flood zones.
So, will more areas be added to the map? 9 Investigates went to the chief engineer of Orange County’s Stormwater Management Division who is in the process of trying to make that determination right now.
“I think the main issue that we’ve been having, talking with some residents, is the idea of, I have lived here 30 years and I’ve never flooded before,” Daniel Negron said.
Negron explained that FEMA flood maps are drawn based on a 1% chance that the area will flood in any given year, also known as a 100-year-flood event. With that threshold, even though we saw more flooding during Hurricane Ian, it doesn’t mean new areas will be zoned.
“That’s roughly 11 inches for Orange County, but Hurricane Ian was a much bigger storm event. It was closer to, depending on what area of the county, up to the 500-year-event, others the 200-year-storm event,” Negron said.
Negron and his team have been surveying areas of new concern, reported to 311. Homeowners can submit their own requests to FEMA as well, to determine whether a map revision will be initiated. That can happen year-round, even without a major storm.
“We get about 30 to 40 regional changes, subdivision-type level,” Negron said about annual requests for map changes. “Then for single-family homes, we may get 50 requests a year or so.”
Though the maps are always adapting, the process can take time. Negron showed us a master map from 2009, before Orlo Vista was declared a flood zone. The process to change that was initiated before Hurricane Irma, but it wasn’t completed until after that storm, and it still wasn’t enough to prompt changes to protect residents there during this one.
Orange County is sending out a survey to about 5,000 homes next month to determine if the county needs to change its messaging about the potential for flooding in certain areas or before a storm.. We’ll follow up to get the results.
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