Tahoe Keys residents say flood map is all wet
Sun News Service
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE ” Nearly 14 inches of rain fell on the South Shore between Dec. 25, 1996, and Jan. 6, 1997, melting several feet of snow at the South Shore and causing the worst flooding several long-time residents can remember.
Tahoe Keys resident Florrie Donovan-Gunderson took pictures of the flooding’s effects near her home, and carefully points out that the water level during the significant flooding did not come close to damaging the condominium she’s owned since 1970.
It’s evidence Donovan-Gunderson looks to as an example for her frustration over a recent change in Federal Emergency Management Agency flood hazard maps.
“The maps are grossly inaccurate,” Donovan-Gunderson said.
The change bumped up flood hazard ratings in areas of the Keys, and spurred letters from mortgage lenders requiring some homeowners to buy flood insurance.
How many have been affected by the changes remains unknown, but a letter from Donovan-Gunderson’s lender indicates her home is one of those that is without the proper flood insurance.
“If you do not respond to this letter within 45 days, we will purchase flood insurance on your behalf and charge you for the total premium amount of $1,105.75, which includes a $40 policy fee for a coverage limit $100,000,” the letter states.
The letter suggests that homeowners who disagree with the determination call the lender and provide evidence from a “community official, a registered engineer, an architect or a surveyor” stating the location of the structure and the basis for the disagreement.
Eric Simmons, a senior engineer with FEMA, contends the Keys area is at risk for flooding and encouraged residents to buy flood insurance.
Condominiums, including Donovan-Gunderson’s, are covered by a Tahoe Keys Property Owners Association blanket policy, but single-family homeowners are most likely to receive the letters, which started going out in October, said Tahoe Keys General Manager Ed Morrow.
“People have a choice: They can individually go and get a surveyor’s certificate that will more or less certify that they are not in the flood plain, or they can buy flood insurance through either a private source or the national flood insurance program,” Morrow said.
Homeowners can submit individual disagreements, but Morrow said he is leading an effort to submit a larger survey containing multiple homes in the Keys to prevent an increase in insurance rates for homeowners.
But the possibility of added expenses doesn’t sit well with Donovan-Gunderson, who said a $1,000 insurance premium could be a hardship for most homeowners, especially when she contends floods do not threaten the Keys.
What risk flooding poses to the Keys remains up for debate.
The higher flood hazard rating for some areas of the Keys may have resulted from the incorrect transcription of data points when the flood maps were recently transferred from paper copies drawn in 1978 to digital copies as part of a FEMA initiative, Morrow said.
“We went through a 150-year storm in 1997,” Tahoe Keys Property Owners Association President Hal Shores said. “The water goes over the dam (in Tahoe City), it doesn’t come up and flood homes.”
It would be difficult, but not impossible, for homes in the Keys to be inundated during a flood, said Christian Svensk, an associate planner with the city.
City and federal flood managers said a review of the change to the flood maps is already under way. “We are working with the city to review the mapping,” Simmons said. He declined to say how long the review might take, saying “it’s ongoing.”
A separate process to update the entire flood plain map for the city is also under way, but is likely to take several years, Svensk said.
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