“The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is not quick to make changes to maps,” said Michael Taylor, the city’s principal planner.
It has taken FEMA 15 years, from 2003 to 2018, to update preliminary flood maps for the area, he said. “It will be a couple of years” before these maps become “effective” or officially binding.
According to FEMA’s website, preliminary maps do not immediate affect requirements to purchase flood insurance or the rates being charged for coverage until the data are finalized, labeled as “effective” and then officially adopted by local officials. Coastal flood risks vary over time due to natural occurrences such as beach erosion and man-made changes such as development. Advancements in technology such as elevation data collection, flood modeling and weather storm reporting can also be factors.
In 2012, Gulfport adopted a citywide Letter of Map Revision (LOMR) that modified some areas of the local FIRM. The greatest changes were primarily located in the Pasadena Yacht and Country Club (PYCC) section of the city, said Taylor.
“To add some significance to that map revision, my flood insurance went from $5,000 a year to $500 a year,” said Councilmember Dan Liedtke who lives in PYCC.
In addition to flood insurance adjustments, the newest FEMA updates will also affect Florida building codes and the changes will make new coastal construction more resistant to damage from storms, said Taylor.
“Florida is one of the most innovative states in the country with building codes,” he said.
FEMA is updating their methodology to improve their ability to determine risk for people living close to the water and what they can do regarding mitigation in addition to reducing the number of losses related to property, structures and lives, said Taylor.
“They’re looking at getting the flood zones down to the individual parcel” level, he said.
Though Gulfport historically issues several types of documentation to inform residents of changes to flood maps and related building codes, council directed city staff to look into communicating specific data to affected people by including details in utility bills.
The annual hurricane seminar was held on Thursday evening, May 30 at the Catherine Hickman Theater, said Councilmember Christine Brown.
On Sunday, June 2, the Tampa Bay Times ran a front-page article entitled, “No One’s Coming,” she said. “And, that’s so true.”
Brown is also a member of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). She helped to evacuate people and pets from Gulfport before Hurricane Irma, a major storm that struck the area from Sunday, September 10 to Monday, September 11, 2017.
“Don’t get complacent. No one will be here to help you if you do not evacuate and you were told to,” she said. “The emergency management people in our city are not going to risk their lives to go out and save you in the height of the storm.”
“The Times’ article is good. Please take heed,” she said.
The 2019 Pinellas County Hurricane Preparedness Guide “has a lot of the same information in it,” she said. Printed copies of the guide are available in the lobby of City Hall, 2401 53rd St. S., or visit pinellascounty.org/emergency/PDF/All_Hazard_Guide.pdf.
“Please make friends with people who live in the Disston Ridge area of Pinellas County, which is a non-flood zone, who can take you and your animal,” she said.
“If you have an animal please don’t think you’re going to the shelter,” said Brown. “That was a holy nightmare last time. It was scary. It was ugly. It was stinky.”
A shelter is a place of last resort, she said. “And, it’s not a nice place.”
Brown advised residents to make a plan for themselves, their family, pets, home, important papers and boats.
“We know for weeks in advance that a hurricane is coming so you should be prepared, have a kit and a plan,” she said.
“Thank you,” said Mayor Sam Henderson to Brown. “It’s pretty sobering looking at the maps and picturing those areas being under water – no longer being land for a period of time.”
Budget Discussions Continue
Following the annual discussion timeline, City Manager Jim O’Reilly and staff presented the council with a draft analysis of the 2019-2020 operating and capital budgets on June 4.
At the next regular council meeting on Tuesday, June 18, details of a utility rate study will be presented.
As stipulated in the city charter, on Monday, July 15, O’Reilly will provide the formal proposed budget for the next fiscal year to council. The next day, during their Tuesday, July 16 regular meeting, council members will consider the adoption of the proposed millage rate.
After completing additional steps in the process, council will consider the adoption of the 2020 fiscal year’s operating budget at their regular meeting on Tuesday, September 17.