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New maps of flood plains to be unveiled

Floodwaters rose in Worthington after repeated rainstorms, Sept. 23, 2010. (Photo by Lori Kamm)

WORTHINGTON -- The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recently completed a remapping of Nobles County's flood plain. The maps are used to determine which properties in the cities and rural areas of the county are now at greater risk for flooding.

Though it's uncertain just how many more properties have been added into the flood plain within Worthington's city limits, Nobles County Environmental Services Director Wayne Smith said rural areas will actually see fewer parcels in the flood plain.

It has been 25 years since the county's flood maps have been updated, and Smith said the redrawn maps will be more accurate because new technology -- from geographic information data to better engineering records -- were utilized in the process.

"Things constantly change because culverts and roads keep getting bigger, there's more tiling projects, landscaping in cities and more impervious service," said Smith.

Brad Chapulis, director of community and economic development for the city of Worthington, said several changes were made due to errors in the June 1986 map.

"There is a potential of properties being taken out ... (and) there may be some areas that are added in the flood plain," he said.

Both Chapulis and Smith encourage property owners to attend a public open house planned from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Nobles County Public Works facility, 960 Diagonal Rd., Worthington. Representatives from FEMA and the Minnesota DNR will be on hand to review the preliminary flood insurance study and new maps.

During the open house, maps and computers will be set up for property owners to search out their parcel and learn if its flood risk status has changed.

A separate meeting will be at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday for all township officials, city council members, county commissioners and staff, where input will be received on the maps.

"We want to make sure the maps are as accurate as possible, and that's why we're asking the township and city officials to come (earlier)," Smith said.

He said there were some "glaring errors" in the 1986 flood plain map, particularly in an area north of Adrian. When property owners there wanted to build, they ended up spending $1,500 or more to obtain a letter of map revision -- a process that requires hiring a professional engineer or registered land surveyor to evaluate the property.

"The new maps have taken them out (of the flood plain)," said Smith. "I know several people are going to be happy because they will now be able to expand their feedlot."

John Devine, FEMA's National Flood Insurance outreach coordinator, said FEMA is in the process of redrawing maps across the country. In Minnesota, approximately three-fourths of the counties will get new maps sometime in the next few years, he said.

"The flood map identifies potential for flood risk," said Devine, adding that people attending the public open house will have access to information about flood insurance and steps they can take to help prevent a flood disaster in their community.

The maps are drawn with low, medium and high flood risk in mind. Medium risk is considered a one in 500 year flood, while high risk is considered a one in 100 year flood.

Devine said anyone can purchase coverage from the National Flood Insurance Program as long as their community has partnered with FEMA. In a community where there is no special flood hazard area, residents can purchase flood insurance at a reduced rate because they're in a lower risk area.

"We find 25 percent of claims we get through the National Flood Insurance Program are for structures that come from outside that area we identify as high risk," Devine added.

FEMA subsidizes flood insurance for property owners, and it can be purchased through the individual's insurance agent. In cases where a mortgage still exists, Devine said banks typically require flood insurance.

With the introduction of the new maps, Devine said banks could hire people to research loan portfolios of their mortgage holders.

"They identify which projects are within the special flood hazard area, contact the homeowner and let them know flood insurance is required," Devine said. "What happens if the homeowner does not buy flood insurance? Then the bank buys it for them, and they are charged for it."

At this time, Devine said homeowners with property that has moved from a low-risk to high-risk area can access a lower-rate flood insurance policy.

"If they maintain that insurance, it would carry over for at least two years after the changes in the maps," Devine said. "After that, the rates will go up somewhat."

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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