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Flood zone meeting tonight at Petaluma Community Center

City staff will partner with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to host an informational meeting on the 2014 changes to the Petaluma flood zone insurance maps on Dec. 3 at the Petaluma Community Center.

The redrawn flood maps, which dictate whether residents and businesses are in a high-risk area for flooding, and must purchase expensive flood insurance, were released in April. After the city challenged several FEMA findings on the new maps, FEMA made some changes and announced the new flood zone insurance rate maps will take effect on Feb. 19.

Curt Bates, the city's engineer who has been working with FEMA on the maps, said the meeting is meant to help anyone with questions about the new flood maps.

"Residents can look at the new maps, they can see where their property is located and they can ask FEMA engineers and insurance specialists direct questions," said Bates. "We're encouraging anyone who lives near the flood zone to attend."

In the 1980s, FEMA determined that many Payran neighborhood residents lived in a high-risk flood zone. As a result, anyone with a mortgage through a national lender was required to pay for federal flood insurance, which can cost upwards of $1,000 per year.

Since then, Petaluma has worked on completing a project aimed at reducing flooding in central Petaluma by removing an abandoned railroad trestle and installing massive steel flood walls along portions of the Petaluma River through the Payran neighborhood. The more than $40 million endeavor is almost finished and the infrastructure upgrades allowed FEMA to determine that many residents are no longer in the flood zone.

For some, the new maps mean welcomed relief from having to buy expensive flood insurance. John Cheney, a resident of the often-flooded Payran neighborhood, said that he is excited to be officially removed from the flood zone, but will most likely still keep his insurance.

"While I'll be out of the flood zone and my insurance could go down, it's not like the imaginary line on the flood maps will stop this area from flooding," said Cheney. "In the 1980s a lot of us in my area were caught without flood insurance.These days, there's so much construction going on above stream, like at the Deer Creek Shopping Center, it will only add to future runoff. No thanks. I'll keep my flood insurance."

Under the new maps, most of the Payran neighborhood is no longer considered in the flood zone. However, some homes on Cordelia Drive, Jess Avenue and Payran Street are still in FEMA's updated flood plain. For those still required to buy flood insurance, rates continue to climb.

"Flood insurance rates have increased each year because of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy," said Bates. "FEMA and insurance companies have had to raise their rates to cover the costs of the vastly underfunded flood insurance program nationwide."

Tuesday's meeting will run from 6 to 8 p.m at the Petaluma Community Center at 320 North McDowell Blvd. Bates said there will be no formal schedule and advised residents with questions to drop in anytime during the two-hour event to speak with a FEMA specialist.

(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at janelle.wetzstein@arguscourier.com)


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