For those who have been paying for unneeded insurance due to inaccurate flood-plain mapping, they might stop getting soaked soon.
City of Spokane Valley officials received a letter from the Federal Emergency Management Agency last month stating that new maps would show that “base flood elevations” have been readjusted for those living in the Chester Creek area based on appeals filed by Sprague Avenue businessman Dick Behm. Reductions of the BFEs, however, won’t become effective until July 6 and after the city revises its own code amendments, said Deanna Griffith, administration assistant in the city’s community development department.
“That has to be done first,” Griffith said, adding that the revisions will be placed before the City Council soon.
The appeals have been a nearly two-decade-long process for Behm, who first brought the matter to the attention of FEMA back in 1992. At that time, flood-plain maps issued in the 1980s showed that waters from the Chester Creek area could swamp large areas of the Kokomo subdivision and parts of Dishman-Mica Road in the southwestern Spokane Valley area. They also indicated that water could be as deep as 2 feet as far south as Sprague during a 100-year flood event.
Behm said the soil makeup of the Valley along with Barrow Pit, dug by Spokane County to control flooding, would be more than enough to direct waters to the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer. Back in 2006, he told a reporter for the Spokane Valley News Herald that the pit was “only about 50-percent filled” during record or near-record flood events in 1999 and 2000.
Meanwhile, home owners with mortgages have been forced to pay thousands of dollars annually for flood insurance that is not needed.
“Even if it didn’t affect you, it was wrong,” Behm said. “That’s why I got involved.”
The process, however, has been a long one. After enlisting the aid of former Rep. George Nethercutt and county Commissioner Phil Harris, Behm’s formal appeal came in 2000. FEMA responded with a new map that showed Kokomo was out of the flood plain, but Behm – who lives on Dishman-Mica Road would have water “8 inches deep outside his door.”
After the city of Spokane Valley incorporated, planning officials – especially Marina Sukup, the former director – helped keep the issue in front of FEMA, which was planning to update maps not only for the Chester Creek area but also for Argonne and Forker Draw drainages in Spokane Valley and unincorporated Spokane Valley. There were contentious public hearings where residents affected by the flood maps related stories of having to spend thousands annually for extra insurance while some of their neighbors – in many cases, their homes were already paid for – did not.
The news that the federal government was finally rectifying its mistake after the “almost overwhelming task” of the appeal process was almost too good to be true, Behm said.
“It just shows that perseverance pays off,” he said.