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New Black River flood zone to get mixed reception from property owners with mortgages

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Some homeowners who live in the village of Black River and town of LeRay may need to start — or be allowed to stop — making flood insurance payments, based on a revised Black River flood plain.

The new plain, established this year by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state Department of Environmental Conservation, will take effect in the spring.

Bordering the town of LeRay, village of Black River and town of Rutland, an 11.4-mile upstream section of the Black River was studied for three years by DEC and FEMA officials to update the plain. An informational meeting was held Thursday in Black River to answer questions for property owners who potentially will be added or removed from the plain. Letters were sent to property owners whose tax parcels previously were unaffected but are now at least partially located in the proposed zone, along with those who will no longer be included in the plain.

A combined 35 residential and commercial properties will be removed from the flood plain, and 16 will be added, according to current mapping data from FEMA and Jefferson County Real Property Tax Services. Among properties removed, 15 are located on the Rutland side and 20 on the LeRay side of the Black River; of those added, 11 are in Rutland and five in LeRay.

Banks require property homeowners seeking mortgages to purchase flood insurance from FEMA if they own buildings located within a designated flood hazard plain, but the requirement applies only to cases in which a portion of the building itself is located within the plain — not just the property. Homeowners who were previously outside the flood plain but are now included would be required to start purchasing flood insurance.

Several residents who attended the meeting Thursday discovered that while a portion of their properties are now in the flood plain, their houses aren’t, LeRay Supervisor Ronald C. Taylor said. As a consequence, those residents won’t be required to purchase flood insurance if they have mortgages on their homes. Others who received letters, however, could own houses that are in the zone.

“If they own property down by the bank of the Black River, but not on higher property where their houses sit, they don’t need flood insurance,” he said. “But there are some areas along the Black River that were flooded in the 1990s that could now be in the plain and need to carry flood insurance.”

FEMA decides which properties are in flood hazard areas by using a formula that accounts for annual changes in water levels, along with topography data that factors in the distance of land from the water. Qualifying properties must have at least a 1 percent chance of flooding during any given year, and a 26 percent chance of flooding over the usual lifespan of a 30-year mortgage.

Paul K. Weberg, senior engineer in the New York FEMA district who worked on the Black River study, said the revised flood plain was calculated using updated cross-sectional land surveys, topography data for both sides of the Black River, and revised maps from the Jefferson County Planning Department. That information was then compiled to create a revised “hydrological model” used to identify residential and commercial land parcels within the flood plain.

Along with providing more accurate information, Mr. Weberg said, the updated flood maps will be a useful resource for municipalities that are seeking residential and commercial growth. Municipal officials will be able to better identify property available for developers to build on that’s located near the Black River but outside the flood plain. Maps from 1994 still used by the town of LeRay will be replaced,

“If you build close to the river, you want to make sure the lowest floor of any new house is above a certain elevation” so it’s not in the flood plain, Mr. Weberg said. “We did these studies where future development might occur.”

Some home and business owners who now own parcels in the flood plain will be removed under the revised study. That will be welcomed as positive news, because they’ll no longer need to pay for flood insurance in some cases. For others, it will mean they’ll be allowed to build on property that was previously located in the flood plain.

That will be the case for James M. Conlin, owner of All American Real Estate, 102 S. Main St. The real estate broker was among the residents who received a letter stating his property would be removed from the flood plain.

Although the real estate building itself is now located outside the current flood plain, Mr. Conlin said, the designated flood hazard area is only about three feet away. That has prevented him from building a shed and adding signage on his parcel — plans he’ll move forward with when his parcel is officially outside the zone.

“I’m hoping it is, because as the business gets bigger it would be nice to expand and have a shed for storage and things if I improve my office,” he said, adding that he plans to confirm the news with village officials soon.

Mr. Conlin bought the building in 2010 from the village of Black River, which formerly had its offices there. The north side of the building is about 40 yards from the Black River, but he’s never witnessed any flooding. “It’s about 30-to-40 feet from the river’s bridge, and it would have to be an incredible amount of water,” he said.

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