Day late, dollar short

Published: Wednesday, November 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 31, 2006 at 11:37 p.m.
Alachua County officials didn't earn many constituent service points in their handling of the great flood zone map flap.
Thousands of Alachua County homeowners were recently astonished to discover that they are now living in flood zones and may now have to buy costly flood insurance. And never mind that some of them have never experienced a drop of flooding.
Sensing more anger than love from homeowners this election year, the Alachua County Commission held a special meeting last week to try to get to the bottom of the flood map mess. They even brought in officials from FEMA to answer questions.
FEMA's response: "We're from the government and we're here to help." But the feds won't reopen the appeal process for homeowners who think they've gotten a bum rap.
The problem is that, until recently, most of the affected homeowners had no idea they were suddenly living in flood zones, let alone that they had a narrow window in which to appeal that determination. Whatever public notification process the county employed seems to have been insufficient.
Angry residents accused the county of giving FEMA outdated flood maps. But county officials say they merely showed FEMA all the flooding data they had, and that FEMA chose the maps it wanted.
Residents also faulted the county for failing to notify them a timely manner so they could appeal. But Alachua County's motto this year seems to be: "Don't blame us." The county doesn't have the staffing for that sort of thing, officials say.
Which might sound feasible if neighboring Marion County hadn't been so proactive in trying to protect its residents from getting soaked in FEMA's remapping process.
When Marion County learned that more than 11,000 homes would be designated in flood zones, it promptly asked for a review. The review eliminated about 1,600 of the affected homes. Marion County also held several public hearings to alert homeowners of their exposure. And they went to bat for residents, taking issue with some of FEMA's determinations.
"Our commissioners saw the first maps and said 'This is really, really unbelievable, Can we take a better look at them?'" Marion stormwater engineer Tracy Staub told the Sun recently. "We slowed down the process right then and there and bought ourselves a year to re-evaluate and work to get some changes on them."
The evidence does not suggest that Alachua County was nearly as diligent in protecting the interests of its citizens. Coming on top of rising property tax evaluations and soaring home insurance premium, additional flood insurance costs add more than insult to injury.
Alachua County government was more than a day late and a dollar short in reacting to the flood map flap. Slapping together a hastily arranged public meeting and waiving a few fees for residents requesting county flood evaluation data hardly qualifies as good constituent service.

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