Project Means More Oregon Residents May Need Flood Insurance

April 13, 2009

Federal officials say more of North Bend, Ore., is at risk of flooding than previously thought, meaning more property owners may have to buy flood insurance or pay more if they already have it.

The Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries has made Coos County the focus of a pilot project to map the coast with laser pulse technology, which will give the region some of the best maps in the Northwest.

Defined hazard zones for tsunamis, landslides and flooding will shift. Some people could find their homes no longer in a tsunami zone, while others may learn they are in one, the Coos Bay World newspaper said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been converting its flood insurance rate maps from paper to digital files. Last year, it set its sights on Coos County, which turned over its new topographic maps commissioned in 2005.

David Voss, the city’s community development director, didn’t think much about it until FEMA returned with preliminary maps.

To him it looked like the city was under invasion.

The cautionary “blue zones” in North Bend have flooded into more of the eastern waterfront, onto practically all of the Southwest Oregon Regional Airport, much of the area around Pony Village Mall and areas along Pony Creek.

In addition to the new maps, Voss noted that tide gates at Crowell Lane near North Bend High School don’t work, so stretches south of them are at greater flood risk. there are plans to repair them.

Officials in Coos Bay, Bandon, Coquille and Coos County haven’t yet seen anything as dramatic.

Laser-equipped planes flew over the county last year and recorded elevations in such detail that they include individual cars, power lines and telephone poles, said Don Lewis, assistant director of geologic survey and services.

Property owners who don’t think they belong in a flood zone can hire an engineer or surveyor to certify the elevation at a cost of from several hundred to several thousand dollars.

Landowners within the flood hazard zone have to buy flood insurance, fully paid up front, to get mortgages from federally regulated lenders.

The city could refuse to recognize the new maps, Voss said, but it would essentially forfeit federal disaster funding for residents if the city floods.

Property owners could save on premiums if they take out policies before the map changes go into effect in September.

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