No BFE and no clue what to do…
December 1, 2016
Dallas Alley, CFM, St. Clair County
Every Floodplain Manager (FPM) has, at least once in their career, come across a property in an Approximate A zone without a Base Flood Elevation (BFE). Every time I see the dreaded unstudied A zone I start to cringe. Then comes the inevitable headaches of dealing with lenders, insurance agents, those questionable flood determination companies, and of course your customer who is stuck in this mind-boggling quagmire and suffering the so called wrath of FEMA. What’s a FPM to do? Well we could look our customer in the eye and tell them to spend thousands of dollars, hire an engineering firm, and conduct a detailed H & H study. Luckily, there is much cheaper option and we make FEMA do all the heavy lifting. The great thing about this option is that FEMA will calculate a BFE for FREE! That’s right you read this correctly. FEMA will calculate a digital elevation model BFE in Approximate A zones as part of every Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA) that is submitted.
So how does this work? It’s simple! First of all, the customer will have to hire a surveyor to prepare an elevation certificate (EC). The surveyor will leave the BFE section of the EC blank and simply add a statement such as: “no BFE available from Federal, state or local sources.” Once the EC is completed, someone (the property owner, their mortgage broker, their insurance agent, or the local FPM) needs to submit the LOMA application to FEMA. One bit of advice here: do yourself a favor and submit the LOMA online, it saves time and headaches. Then all you have to do is sit back and wait for FEMA’s contractor to calculate a BFE for you as part of the LOMA process!
However, depending on the current FEMA contractor you might or might not be able to actually get the BFE shown on the LOMA letter. I recently tested this process and the BFE was not provided on the LOMA approval. At this point the lowly FPM would consider crawling into a cave of defeat, but fear not. You are a determined floodplain manager in an NFIP participating community. You are entitled to request PFD’s of pretty much all Flood Insurance Study (FIS) Data for FREE! So go ahead and print out the FIS data request form from FEMA’s website, complete it, and fax it to the engineering library. In two – three weeks you will get an email of the LOMA as well as the Flood Elevation Determination paperwork. You will even get the HEC-RAS data.
One final thought for all my fellow FPM’s, before you go down this path: check the National Flood Hazard GIS data for any LOMAs already completed in the immediate vicinity. FEMA may have already calculated the BFE for your site. When this is the case all you have to do it request the data from FEMA and wait a couple weeks.