Does FEMA Have Onondaga Creek Flood Risk Wrong? It Could Cost Syr Property Owners

Dec 23, 2014

Dispute over the flood risk of Onondaga Creek could impact families that might have to pay for expensive flood insurance.
Credit Chris Bolt/WAER News

  About 150 families in Syracuse could find out in the next few weeks if they’ll have to pony up as much as $1200-a-year for flood insurance…even though the city doesn’t think they’re in any danger of a flood.  

Senator Chuck Schumer is trying to get FEMA to change its flood maps after recent engineering reports about Onondaga Creek.

“It’s not one of these questions, maybe they’re right, maybe their wrong; they are wrong.  That means if it’s wider than FEMA says it is, it has the potential to hold more water before anything gets flooded, keeping these homes in good shape.  So what sounds like a technicality could actually be a money saver for lots of Syracuse residents.” 

City Hall and State officials had an engineering firm measure the creek and found FEMA was overstating the flood risk.  

FEMA cross-section of Onondaga Creek (top line) shows narrower, flood prone sections. City data of same section (@ Rte 690) shows wider creek that could handle much more water, with less flood risk.
Credit Chris Bolt/WAER News

Mayor Stephanie Miner is enlisting Schumer’s help to pressure FEMA to accept these new measurements as part of the flood maps due out early next year. 

“And by having accurate maps when they publish it, it will impact the lives of 150 families.  That will enable them to spend money on improving their properties and making sure they’re paying for other things, not flood insurance for a 100-year flood that will never come, according to the data that we have.” 

Senator Charles Schumer (left), Mayor Stephanie Miner, Common Councilor Khalid Bey trying to pressure FEMA to ease flood insurance requirements to spare local property owners.
Credit Chris Bolt/WAER News

  If this all sound familiar…it is.  A 2010 map included about 3000 properties in a flood zone.  The over-cautious lines were drawn widely for fear of storms such as Irene and Sandy.  That was eventually reduced where about 870 properties are in the current FEMA map…which could be reduced further if the agency adopts the changes.