COTTAGE GROVE – As city planner and Lane County floodplain administrator Eric Mongan delivered the news to city council on Aug. 28, councilor Alex Dreher said, “(Cottage Grove residents) will never know you did this, but thank you so very much.”
Mongan had announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would be changing Cottage Grove’s updated Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) and Flood Insurance Study (FIS) – also referred to as flood maps – which should have economic benefits for Cottage Grove residents.
The Risk MAP process
FEMA creates flood maps to prepare for floods. FIRMs outline floodplains: any area of land that can be affected during a flood or high water. Flood maps are updated through FEMA’s Risk Mapping, Assessment, and Planning (Risk MAP) process, which can take years to complete.
FEMA created and shared updated maps with new flood hazard data to Cottage Grove. They were then analyzed for scientific mistakes. The City hired WEST Consultants, Inc. to perform a technical review, and there were some potential errors found, which were then sent to FEMA via appeal. Since the technical review showed the maps were scientifically incorrect, all signs say FEMA will be changing the maps.
Ted Perkins, FEMA regional flood engineer, said that he cannot say for certain at this time that there will be a change in Cottage Grove’s maps, but it sounds like there will be a reduction of floodplains on the final map.
“I don’t want to jinx it, but I’m hopeful that we’ll get some relief because it’s pretty significant,” Mongan said.
Historical background, technological advancements
Flood maps are a great tool to maintain community safety, but they can’t do that if they’re outdated. Cottage Grove’s current flood map became effective on June 1, 1999 and was based on a study from 1983.
It has been 30 years since the last study was completed, and science has advanced greatly with technological advancements to assist in obtaining the data necessary to create a flood map. For example, ground elevations are a really important data point when creating a flood map, and current light, detection, and ranging (LiDAR) technology has greatly improved the efficiency of data collection.
“There’s this LiDAR technology where you can take a plane, and it shows thousands of pulses of light, and it bounces back to the plane, and you can get a very detailed understanding of what the ground elevations are,” Perkins said. “We also go on the ground and use river surveys, but in terms of capturing all of the ground, those plane surveys are just on a whole other level than what we used to have just 15 years ago.”
The rest of Lane County
Central Lane County has been going through the Risk MAP process together.
Creswell went about the process much differently, as the responsibility was placed on the residents rather than the City. Mongan asked the City of Creswell if it wanted to participate with WEST Consulting, Inc.’s technical review, but it declined.
“Cottage Grove invested about $15,000 worth of cash money to consultants, plus my staff time, to appeal,” Mongan said. “Creswell invested $0 but had 45 people spend their own money at some $400 a piece to try and counter.”
Each of the residents who filed appeals hired a surveyor – who checks the updated maps’ elevation for accuracy – to gain scientific data that would legitimize the updated maps’ findings, just as WEST Consulting, Inc. did for Cottage Grove.
Creswell resident Cindy Robinson said her appeal centered around the fact that FEMA’s data was older than her neighborhood’s existence, and that when her home was constructed, dirt was filled in to raise the house higher in elevation, which FEMA did not relay in its updated maps. Robinson paid for an elevation certificate to be done, which shows that the home is not in a floodplain.
“The bottom line is: It affects us because it says we’re in a floodplain when in fact we believe they’re looking at old data, and we’re not in a floodplain,” Robinson said.
What residents are doing in Creswell will not require a change to Creswell’s flood map, but it will allow the residents of those homes to not pay flood insurance if their appeals prove they are not in the floodplain.
For the rest of central Lane County, Mongan said the unincorporated lands in Lane County and the City of Springfield are on the path toward the adoption of the maps which were distributed to those communities in early 2024. He added that the City of Eugene was moving forward as well, but there will be a slight change to its flood map regarding the area near the Safeway on East 18th Avenue.
Economics behind flood maps
Mongan mentioned that nobody – a homeowner or a business-owner – wants to have property in a floodplain. This is commonly because of both the risk of flood and the expensive flood insurance which is required.
The updates Mongan expects to see on the finalized maps would create more space for the Cottage Grove to expand and grow because there will be less floodplain area.
“This map, if adopted, will bring an additional 750 structures into the floodplain, whereas right now, I believe I have 87,” Mongan said. “That’s a significant impact for the community.”
He said the greatest impact of the maps regards safety, but a close second is financial.
“As a floodplain administrator, I’m intentionally kept out of the loop on how (flood insurance) rates are set, but anecdotally, I’m aware of how folks that have been brought into the floodplain through other map amendment processes can be as much as $400/month, $4,500/year, and if you’re on fixed income, that’s a ton of money,” Mongan said. “I mean, that’s a car payment; that’s child care; that’s a number of things for any person.”
Shrinking the floodplain allows for an expansion of development, which is what Mongan hopes for.
The waiting game
Now, central Lane County waits for FEMA’s next move.
Cottage Grove and Creswell are waiting for their requested changes to be made and will go from there. Eugene, Springfield, and the unincorporated parts of Lane County are waiting for their letter of final determination (LFD), which finalizes the flood maps. After receiving LFDs, there are six months before the maps must be fully in effect.
“At this point, we’re just waiting,” Mongan said. “We’re trying to take advantage of this time to be prepared and also move things forward.”