There won’t be any box wine or cheese platters, but residents of Marathon are encouraged to drop by City Hall on Wednesday, Jan. 29 from 4 to 7 p.m. It’s the chance for property owners to review the new FEMA flood maps and consult experts.

The council’s meeting room will be set up with large-scale print-outs of the maps, and staffed by an outreach firm working on behalf of FEMA. 

“There will be a broad spectrum of people there, representing FEMA and cities and counties that can provide information,” said George Garrett, Marathon’s planning director. “That will include experts on how the new maps will affect insurance rates.”

The new maps, which have been years in the making, are based on LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) information of the Keys. The official release of the maps triggers a period of community review; hence, the open house. This is the time to correct any errors. City officials said they have already spotted some — such as elevation data that reflects the roof of a building, rather than the ground. 

“In other cases, property owners have made substantial improvements after the data was gathered,” Garrett said, explaining that a homeowner may have raised the lot in anticipation of building a new home. 

In most cases, property owners will find that the base flood elevation (BFE) is higher than what it was previously. That means a higher risk of flooding and, eventually, higher flood insurance premiums. There are, however, steps property owners can take to mitigate the circumstances.

  1. Attend the workshop to understand the changes and risk to your own property.
  2. If the property is currently uninsured for flood, buy it now — before the maps are finalized — and be grandfathered at the current rate.
  3. If the property is insured, continue to pay the premiums. If the home is sold, the existing (less expensive) policy can be transferred to the new owners. 

“We need residents to provide us with information and data that documents their concerns or beliefs that the maps are wrong. And, they should be warned, this can get very technical,” Garrett said. Officially, the public has 90 days to offer comments or appeals, but FEMA has said it will delay adding the maps to the Federal Register to ensure the process goes smoothly. 

The open house on Wednesday, Jan. 29 runs from 4 to 7 p.m. There may be a brief introduction, but the open format means residents can come and go during that time frame.

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