Tim O’Hara, January 26, 2021

Florida Keys local governments have begun formulating their appeals to proposed changes to federal flood insurance maps, which could significantly increase insurance rates for local property owners once implemented later this year.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency published its notice in the Federal Register seeking comment and information regarding the preliminary coastal flood maps, known as Flood Insurance Rate Maps or FIRMs.

Monroe County government, the cities of Key West and Marathon and the Keys-based Fair Insurance Rates in Monroe (also known as FIRM) have begun working on appealing the propose map changes. The 90-day appeal window opens March 18, Assistant County Administrator Christine Hurley said.

Hurley gave the Monroe County Commission a presentation on the maps and its basis for appeal. The county and other local governments plan to appeal technical aspects of the proposed maps.

The local governments contracted with the Woods Hole Group, which completed a review of FEMA’s December 2019 RiskMap study for Monroe County. The review identified eight RiskMap study components that are of concern because of the use of non-standard approaches in certain study areas, inconsistencies in methodology with other FEMA Coastal RiskMap studies, discrepancies between the RiskMap documentation and the analyses, or possible errors in the analysis.

Errors and inconsistencies with the first five study components could result in regional impacts to the FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs), while issues with the last three study components could result in more localized impacts to the FIRMs, according to Woods Hole analysis. Woods Hole is currently preparing the appeal.

The proposed changes could result in an at least 1.4-foot average change in the floodplain, Hurley said. The change could impact rates.

Home and business owners in Monroe County are encouraged to view the preliminary flood maps to better understand where flood risks have changed and how this may affect their future building and flood insurance requirements and costs. To view the mapping tool and look up individual properties, follow the directions at http://www.monroecounty-fl.gov/floodmaps. A summary of the technical findings can be found at http://www.monroecounty-fl.gov/floodmaps.

Any community or individual property owner can appeal proposed changes to flood hazard information or comment on other information included on the preliminary flood hazard maps, according to Hurley.

An appeal is a formal objection to the proposed Base Flood Elevations or flood depths and Special Flood Hazard Area boundaries and zones. Appeals must be based on technical data that show proposed maps to be scientifically incorrect. Anyone who makes an appeal must include the method, data and analysis used to support the claim.

Filing an appeal on a private property will require a $5,000 deposit and a nonrefundable $170 administration fee. The $5,000 deposit will be held in an escrow account while Woods Hole Group reviews and determines if county staff can support the private party appeal. Actual costs will vary, and it may cost less or more to have the review completed, according to the county.

Those living in unincorporated Monroe County with comments or who would like to file an appeal are required to submit their appeal to Monroe County staff for review. People can obtain information online about the county’s appeal effort and the process at www.monroecounty-fl.gov/floodmaps or contact Karl Bursa at 305-453-8759.

People can obtain more information on the City of Key West’s efforts online at https://www.cityofkeywest-fl.gov/699/Public-Comment.

FIRM plans to continually file updates on the flood map issue and people can register to have the updates emailed to them by going to FIRM’s website, http://www/firmkeys.org.

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