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Flood Insurance Could be Burden Facing Syracuse Residents

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Chris Bolt/WAER News
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  Syracuse residents who got the shock that their property is now in a flood zone can find out more information at a meeting this week.  They’ll find out what’s at stake in the future of flood risks and costs.

The city of Syracuse has gone back and forth with federal officials about which properties belong in the flood zone.  Now that final maps have been adopted, more than 800 properties were added to the 500 already thought to be in danger.  The city got 230 properties taken off.  City Facilities Engineer Russell Houk explains the property owners will face flood insurance costs…and the meeting is about information.

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Credit Chris Bolt/WAER News
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City Engineer Russell Houk will be at the information meeting Thursday.

  “For each property owner the city isn’t providing money or assistance, and we brought that up at the Common Council meeting, are there state assistance, federal assistance, there re ally isn’t, other than the subsidized flood insurance. Again there are some mitigation programs that can be applied for.”  

Flood Map Meeting Thursday @ Southwest Community Center 4:00 - 8:00 p.m.

  That would mean doing a few things to make a property flood resistant to lower insurance costs.  He notes the coverage is subsidized to bring it down a little.  Common Councilor Jean Kessner says if unfortunate, the new maps had to be adopted.

“Now we’re at, this is what it is. The federal government is not giving us anymore latitude, not taking any more property off, these are the maps. So we have to accept them because we do not people in the city of Syracuse won’t be able to get any federal backed mortgage. Mortgage requires flood insurance if you are in a flood plain.”

If that sounds cut and dry – it is.  However…there’s c chance that a few people included in this latest round of flood maps still don’t belong.  This meeting is not a chance to dispute inclusion however, but Houk explains there is a process.

A Survey of your property done send that back to FEMA, FEMA will make a decision if you’re truly in or out based on the flood elevation. There is a cost there, survey has a cost for someone to provide that. You can do it yourself, but a survey has to be a licensed survey.”

And he expects a few properties on the fringe could be removed.  Otherwise people will be facing insurance costs that could run between $500 and $2500 a year.

Of course changes in weather patterns and storm severity have caused the flood map changes.  

Houk adds Onondaga Creek, the main flood risk, has changed, with more sediment and vegetation reducing the capacity to handle large flows.  But there are options.

So we looked at, if we removed sediment and vegetation what would that do? We looked at widening the channel right at the top, what that would do? We looked at actually modifying the Onondaga dam which is on the Onondaga Nation, but if you can strict that structure that outlet, allow less water to come out of it, how will that help? They all have significant positive benefits; they all have a cost.

Houk believes changing the channel would be too expensive.  Removing creek sediment and shoreline vegetation still 10-to-20 million dollars…and Dam changes would require cooperation with the state and Onondaga Nation.  While such changes would also protect city bridges and roadways, none is on the horizon to protect property owners facing flood insurance. 

The flood map open house will have city and federal officials…it’s Thursday 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Southwest Community Center.”