Cannon Beach goes its own way on flood mapping

In this FEMA flood plain map draft, Cannon Beach's downtown area would be removed from the flood plain.

CANNON BEACH — New maps could offer flood insurance savings to Cannon Beach residents. But because of problems with North County mapping, it looked like South County’s savings would be delayed.

Cannon Beach was ready to make a request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to adopt the maps, encouraged by business owners and residents who said changes would lower costs. City Planner Mark Barnes had begun writing a draft.

FEMA acted first.

During a City Council work session last month, Barnes said FEMA decided to accelerate its adoption of Cannon Beach and Seaside maps, removing the need to send a letter. In an email exchange shared with Barnes, Stephen Lucker, mapping specialist with the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development, asked FEMA engineer David Ratte if the agency was “preparing to separate out the Warrenton and Columbia Estuary work and move forward with the rest of the country.” Ratte answered yes.

Accuracy concerns in flood-prone areas affected by the Columbia River near Warrenton and Astoria had stalled adoption of all mapping work throughout Clatsop County, when FEMA originally planned to approve the southern and northern portions of the county together.

North County agencies are now working together to complete an in-depth analysis and technical review of the draft flood maps.

“It is important for insurance payers throughout the county to get this right, and that’s what we’re determined to do,” Warrenton Mayor Mark Kujala told The Daily Astorian in August.

Flood plain maps have two significant uses: to set flood insurance rates and to provide cities with guidelines for regulation. In Cannon Beach, new construction in the flood plain is required to be above reach of the 100-year flood level.

Flood insurance rates rose significantly two years ago and subsidies were phased out last year.

Under the new maps, Cannon Beach’s downtown comes out of the flood plain. Barnes has said “the cost savings there are tremendous.”

Community member Bruce Francis urged the council to move quickly on adopting a Letter of Map Revision request during an October meeting “so citizens can take advantage of the lowered rates.”

Not all will see benefits, however.

Those along the waterfront would likely see a 50-50 split — some insurance rates would rise and others would lower or remain the same.

Oceanfront homes are most affected by velocity flooding, caused by storm surges, as opposed to downtown flooding, which would come from overflows in storm drains. The maps show new potential risks from velocity flooding that could negatively impact homes near the beach.

Overall, Barnes said the map changes would be “overwhelmingly good” for Cannon Beach.

FEMA’s adoption process should be complete in about six months, the time it would have taken to receive approval for the letter of map revision request.

Cannon Beach will go through a local adoption process for regulatory purposes once the maps are FEMA approved, likely in the spring.

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