Changes on the Floodplain:
FEMA Flood Maps, a Biological Opinion, and Resulting Impacts to Development in the Puget Sound
Tacoma Propeller Club presentation – October 25, 2011
Q: There have been mapped floodplains in Pierce County for decades. Why are issuesregarding floodplain boundaries and floodplain development coming up now?A: FEMA is in the process of updating the floodplain maps for Pierce County (and severalother counties in Washington state). Under the new proposed maps, the floodplains inPierce County are getting significantly wider and deeper. At the same time, recentlitigation regarding the effect of the National Flood Insurance Program on endangeredspecies (certain salmon species and orca whale) resulted in the issuance of the“Biological Opinion” that calls for the tightening of development restrictions infloodplains. So at the same time floodplains are getting bigger, the applicabledevelopment regulations get tougher.Q: How do the new floodplain maps impact property in and around Pierce County?A:
Check the maps
. How a particular property is affected depends on where it is locatedand its classification on the floodplain map (Zone AE, AO, B, X, etc.).
In 2007: FEMA issued preliminary floodplain maps (pFIRMs) for Pierce County.
Certain jurisdictions have already begun using those maps within their jurisdictions – e.g., Pierce County, Tacoma, Fife. Other jurisdictions are continuing to use the older “effective” maps until FEMA finalizes the pFIRMs – e.g., Sumner, Puyallup.
The pFIRMs show many properties mapped within the floodplain for the first time.
Because many of the levees along the Puyallup River do not meet FEMA’s“accreditation” standards, FEMA substantially expanded the floodplains in citiessuch as Tacoma, Fife, Riverside, Orting, and South Prairie.
For example, in Fife, 70% of the community is identified as within the floodplainon the pFIRMs.
The pFIRMs are available on the Pierce County website (matterhorn3.co.pierce.wa.us/publicgis/). The older “effective” floodplain maps are available at the FEMA MapService Center website (msc.fema.gov).
Q: What is the significance of being mapped in the floodplain?A: Properties mapped within the floodplain are subject to at least one, and sometimesseveral, additional layers of development regulations that make it more difficult andmore expensive to develop, redevelop, or repair your property.
Development projects in the floodplain require a flood hazard permit, a critical areas permit, and in some cases a shoreline permit – in addition to other land use andconstruction permits.
The minimum standards imposed by FEMA to obtain a local flood hazard permit requirethat projects be elevated above the base flood elevation (the anticipated flood water levelin a 100 year flood), and employ special design and construction techniques (to avoiddamage in case of flood waters).
These requirements add to the difficulty and cost of development.