Several Rapid City property owners spoke out Tuesday against federally mandated changes that put them in the floodplain for the first time, potentially raising their insurance costs and lowering property values.
Despite the complaints, the Public Works Committee voted unanimously to adopt the new maps. Council members say they did not have any choice but to approve the maps drawn by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
That didn't soften the blow for the property owners, who now must buy flood insurance for their homes in the Robbinsdale area. Other slices of town will be impacted as well.
In all, about 800 local property owners will be affected by the changes; 400 or so will see their properties move into the flood plain and should have already been notified by the city, while another 400 will be moved out. All the floodplain areas that are changing are near tributaries flowing into Rapid Creek, though the area around Rapid Creek itself is not changing.
"Had this area been mapped as the neighborhood was being built, and if it had been in the flood zone, I probably wouldn't have bought my home, and nobody will probably want to buy it now," said Tonia Fischer, a property owner.
Steve Selfridge said homeowners should have the choice of whether to buy flood insurance. But that is not an option for property owners with a federally backed mortgage, and it's not a choice most other lenders offer either.
"Don't just rubber stamp this and say, 'You know, we have to do this, it's federal regulation.' My question is, what about tornadoes?" asked Selfridge, wondering why the federal government doesn't require insurance for other natural disasters.
Committee members wondered whether there was anything the city could do for affected property owners, such as installing drainage that would re-route flood waters and thus remove their properties from potential danger zones.
City Engineer Dale Tech said he could do that but only if he had the money.
"Obviously, it takes time and money, and that's what it amounts to," said Tech, adding later, "There's always a way to get it done, but that goes back to the policy."
A drainage utility, which would charge property owners an extra fee based on the size and type of their property, could help pay for those sorts of drainage projects. The utility has been in the works for since July 2012.
At the moment, adopting the new FEMA floodplain maps and a host of FEMA-ordered rules about what property owners can build on floodplain properties is the only option, according to Tech. If the city doesn't adopt the rules, it will lose out on federally backed flood insurance, and other help in the event of a flood.
"They won't even come with disaster assistance. For us, that sounds pretty heavy-handed, and it is," Tech said.