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New FEMA maps giving Prescott homeowners headaches

By Jason Soifer

The Daily Courier

Published: Sunday, Nov. 14 2010 1:05 p.m. MST

PRESCOTT, Ariz. — Bonnie Cowand is awash in unwanted new bills.

The Prescott Country Club resident is facing hundreds of dollars in additional costs that stem from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's newest round of mapping updates.

FEMA's new maps — and the fact that her home sits on one side of the Clipper wash that runs through the community and ultimately connects with the Agua Fria River — have Cowand paying for a land surveyor to come to her Black Angus Road home and check out where the house sits in relation to the flood plain. And she might have to buy costly flood insurance.

"I think there could have been a better way to inform us of the changes, not, 'wham,' here at the end of the year," she said. "It's just frustrating not knowing where to go or what to do."

What got Cowand fired up were the letters her mortgage company sent her in late September and October telling her she must prove she doesn't need the insurance or get at least $189,000 worth of coverage on her own, or the mortgage company will start billing her $350 a month for the coverage.

"It's frustrating that they throw this stuff at you with no real explanation," she said.

Jana Critchfield, a flood insurance specialist for FEMA, said Congress gave the green light for the agency to update its information and go from paper to digital maps about eight years ago.

The agency began updating its maps nationwide, and that process in the Prescott area finished in September.

"That oftentimes puts people into a high-hazard area where they hadn't previously been in one," she said.

As mortgage companies get wind of the new flood boundaries, they alert property owners to get the coverage.

Critchfield said the agency updates its maps every five years these days, but there was a time when that cycle was longer.

"Some people might have been in the low-risk zone for 15 or 20 years, and the maps hadn't changed," she said.

It's all the more frustrating for Cowand because she said her insurance agent told her she didn't need the coverage when she began living there nearly 20 years ago.

Charlie Cave, flood control district director for Yavapai County, said people with homes in flood plains and those who have federally insured mortgages are required to get coverage.

"It all kind of comes down from FEMA," he said.

"Those shifts are maybe 50 feet in some areas, but that's enough if you're next to a water course to get snagged," he said.

"Some of these are just kind of catch-ups and they should have been identified all along," he added. "They were just slow doing it."

As for Cowand, she'll get a definitive answer in a few weeks. The surveyor will submit his data to the county and Cowand will then find out if she must purchase the coverage or not.

Information from: The Daily Courier, http://www.dcourier.com

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