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Real Property & Development Review

FEMA’s Revised Flood Maps to Affect Development, Availability of Flood Insurance in Western Washington

Posted in Land Use

Authored by:  Craig Gannett and Clayton P. Graham

Landowners and developers across Western Washington will be affected by floodplain map revisions that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) plans to carry out in the coming months. These map updates are part of FEMA’s administration of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), and changes in map designations can have far-reaching effects, including increases in flood insurance premiums and new floodplain development regulations under local codes. For these reasons, many landowners and local governments across Western Washington are expected to appeal these map revisions.

FEMA maintains floodplain maps of the entire country as part of its administration of the NFIP. Federal law encourages local governments to participate in the NFIP by withholding certain financial assistance (including disaster assistance) from communities that do not participate in the program. Participating communities must enact local development regulations that meet certain federal requirements in order to restrict development in floodplains. Federal law also mandates that federally insured or regulated lenders require flood insurance on all grants and loans for the purchase or construction of buildings in areas designated as Special Flood Hazard Areas (generally, areas that would be inundated during a “100-year flood”) in communities participating in the NFIP. Considering the broad NFIP participation in Washington state, FEMA’s proposed map changes could affect many landowners and local governments across the state.

Under federal law, landowners and local governments have the opportunity to appeal FEMA’s determinations of flood risk in any given area. FEMA could see a number of appeals relating to its map revisions for Western Washington, as many believe the proposed designations are overprotective and are concerned about skyrocketing insurance premiums for landowners, and stifling development in participating communities. Parties who wish to appeal FEMA’s floodplain designations will need to submit specific documentation to support their claims, and will generally need to submit their appeal or comments within the 90-day statutory appeal period (other processes are in place for changes to FEMA floodplain maps, though the best process to use depends on the facts of a given case). Those who are not sure how FEMA’s map changes will affect them, or who wish to appeal a FEMA determination, should contact a qualified consultant or an attorney to discuss their options.

Disclaimer

This advisory is a publication of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP. Our purpose in publishing this advisory is to inform our clients and friends of recent legal developments. It is not intended, nor should it be used, as a substitute for specific legal advice as legal counsel may only be given in response to inquiries regarding particular situations.