Flood Ark

New York’s Flood Maps to be Redrawn

01/02/2018 Flooding, USA, New York skyline.

New York, like three quarters of the world’s mega cities, is a coastal city. Four of its five boroughs are located on islands. Manhattan and Staten Island are islands, Queens and Brooklyn take up the western end of Long Island – only the Bronx is part of the mainland of the North American continent. Hurricane Sandy caused widespread flooding of the island boroughs of New York in 2012. Since then, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have attempted to redraw the city’s flood maps, but they have met with resistance from property owners anxious that their insurance premiums will rise.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency

FEMA was created by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 and given the mission “…to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from and mitigate all hazards.”

Following Hurricane Sandy, FEMA began a remapping of New York’s flood zones. Their initial calculations increased the area at highest risk of flooding to include an additional 35,000 homes and buildings – resulting in a legal appeal from Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The Legal Challenge

Mortgaged properties within the Special Flood Hazard Area are required to purchase insurance that will cover them for the damage and destruction that flooding would bring. The city’s wealthy property owners put pressure on the Mayor to challenge FEMA’s preliminary maps. The legal argument rested on the claim that the maps are supposed to represent a 100-year floodplain and that Sandy was a 260-year storm. The challenge was successful and the maps are to be redrawn with closer consultation between the FEMA scientists and those employed by the City of New York.

The Mayor’s Position

Mayor de Blasio is in a tricky position. The biggest challenge of his term in office is preparing the United States’ most populous city for the effects of climate change. He has introduced a range of programmes aimed at incentivising building owners to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2025. However, it is also his job to protect the financial interests of his citizens.

Working Together

New floodmaps are to be drawn up. Which side of the line a particular property falls will represent a significant difference in the value of that property – in a city where the median cost of a home is currently a little over $800,000! If the redrawn maps prove inaccurate because of the pressure put on by the City of New York’s scientists, then the flooded residents will be certain to express their anger at the ballot box.

Read more about the dispute between FEMA and the city of New York.   

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