By Justin Cox
Killeen Daily Herald
The flood zones of Central Texas are getting remapped, and if you live near a waterway, it could cost you money.
On Sept. 26, new Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) will take effect for the communities across Texas. While rural portions of the county will not be affected significantly, the change will have a substantial impact on cities like Killeen.
The new flood map, designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, replaces maps designed between 1981 and 1985 that are now outdated due to development in the past 20 years.
The new map raises the flood zone more than 3 feet in many parts of Killeen, particularly surrounding Nolan Creek, as well as Salado.
Many residents soon will find themselves in a flood zone, and will be required under federal law to get flood insurance. In 1994, the federal government established the National Flood Insurance Program. The NFIP provides lower coverage breaks and grandfather clauses for people who find themselves within the zone.
Annual insurance rates for residents in a flood zone can range from $1,246 to $7,667 on the high end.
Buildings such as Killeen's Central Fire Station sit just outside of the current flood zone. In a little more than a month, the station will be in the middle of a flood plain.
Anyone who lives within 1,000 feet of the main tributaries running through the city should call the city at (254) 501-7629 to find out what their options are. Residents can also go to floodsmart.gov for insurance rates and to inquire about qualifications.
The redrawing of the map hasn't been without conflict. In 2006, the city, like every other city in Texas, received a preliminary map from FEMA showing the new flood zones. Killeen paid an outside contractor to evaluate it. That evaluation disputed much of the FEMA map.
FEMA chose to disregard the city's findings.
City Engineer John Nett worked with the contractor in 2006.
"We had some frustration, because the city hired Jacobs, Carter and Burgess for areas that hadn't been mapped in the past," Nett said Friday. "There were some conflicts. They said once the maps come out, then you move forward. Some of our developers probably won't be pleased."
County Engineer Richard Macchi said they saw similar conflicts with the maps in the Salado area when they began comparing the county's maps, which were last drawn in 1984.
Nett said the new flood zones are significant, but the city has yet to determine exactly how many residents will be affected.
"On the main stem of South Nolan Creek, between Fort Hood Street and the city of Harker Heights, we have seen a rise of 3 to 4 feet for the 100-year event," Nett said. "We have several projects on the way to reduce velocity, to lower the base level of Nolan Creek, introduce additional storage."
Real estate agent Steve Tomczek attended a meeting with the Texas Water Board last week, along with engineers and officials throughout the area. Tomczek said this process really affects his business.
"I have to watch out for my clients as a Realtor," Tomczek said. "If the FIRM has been raised because of the floods we had last year, I have to make sure I don't sell them a property that's in a flood plain."
Tomczek is worried people are going to wake up one day and find out they're in a flood zone. That means one more bill to pay in an economically tough time.
"Nobody knows this is going on," he said. "People who have, have the potential to deal with flood insurance. If your house is at the 100-year flood plain, it might cost you $400 per year; if you're above that, it's a little cheaper."
City Councilman Juan Rivera is one of a few flood insurance providers in Killeen. He said only about 10 percent of people have coverage on their home. He said flood insurance is cheap for most people who are outside of the flood zone, much less than $1,000 per year for most people.
Fortunately, the city and federal governments provide several ways for homeowners to avoid a major cost increase through the NFIP.
The NFIP's grandfather clause states that if a homeowner gets a flood insurance package before the deadline next month, the policy will not go up.
They also provide grants for individuals who qualify in special circumstances.
Earl Abbott is the flood plain coordinator for Killeen, and has been using the 2006 map as a guide for giving permits since he got it.
He said last year's floods in no way brought about this change since FEMA redrew the lines more two years ago.
Since then, he and city engineers have worked with developers on making sure the new areas of town are no longer at risk. That's why the southern side of the city has very few impacted areas.
"As these new maps come out, we'll have new people who may not have been previously identified," Abbott said Friday.
"We're hoping to get the parcels identified that fall into the new flood zone – it would be a tool to make sure new developers don't build into a flood plain," Abbott said.
For now, residents will have to abide by the rules. Or they could be fined.
A federally backed mortgage cannot be signed until the zoning is solved, and you can't close a deal on a used home unless you refinance – and you can't refinance a home in a flood zone unless you have insurance. A resident could take the surveyor study results to FEMA and apply for an exemption, but it takes several months.
"As a community, we found some errors, and if we can report those studies, they will update portions of the map over time," Abbott said.
Contact Justin Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7568.
Check your address
Residents who live within 1,000 feet of the following streams and tributaries can contact the city drainage utility office at 501-7629 to find out if they are in the new zone:
Nolan Creek, Little Nolan Creek, South Nolan Creek, Lowe's Tributary (near the Central Texas Expressway), Long Branch Tributary (near W.S. Young and Westcliff Drive off Fort Hood) and Caprice Tributary.
The city's GIS system provides a detailed layout of the new flood zone as well and can be found at www.ci.killeen.tx.us and click GIS under the Online Services tab.