GALVESTON, Texas -- A federal revision of flood maps in 17 Texas coastal counties is expected to expand the flood plain, causing costly insurance increases for some homeowners, officials said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is incorporating Hurricane Ike’s storm surge data to create digital flood maps, which will add new territory in flood zones but will not include levees unless they are certified within two years after the data is ready, FEMA spokeswoman Susie Webb said.
Engineers will get the data this fall and have preliminary maps available in about a year, and the maps become effective after public hearings and appeals that could take up to another 18 months, Webb said.
If the levees are not on flood maps, lenders will require many homes to carry costly flood insurance for the first time.
"If they said the flood and storm insurance would increase, there would be a lot of people out of here," said Debra Reaid, who can see the Texas City levee from her front porch.
Texas officials have said Ike, which hit the Galveston area in 2008 with a devastating 16-foot storm surge and 110-mph winds, was the costliest natural disaster in state history. Overall damage topped $29 billion, and more than three dozen people died.
Hurricane levees completed in the 1980s are unlikely to meet new certification standards without being elevated by as much as 17 feet, the Houston Chronicle reported Monday.
Raising the Texas City levees would cost $250 million to $350 million, and "we don’t even know if the money is obtainable," said Galveston County Engineer Mike Fitzgerald. Officials in other counties said they doubted the expensive upgrades could be done by the deadline.
Galveston County Judge Jim Yarbrough has said that if the Texas City levee failed certification, insurance costs could rise $500 per year to as much as $5,000 per homeowner.
Officials from Texas and other states have been lobbying for a FEMA deadline extension and federal money to pay for levee improvements.
In Biloxi, Miss., where new flood maps went into effect last year, the flood hazard area grew 25 percent, and it was "a shock," said Biloxi flood plain administrator Richard Stickler said.