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Flood Plain Surveys in Northern Virginia

Land Surveyor Equimpent - Land Development and Planning Engineers in Northern, VA

Flood Plain Information Surveys

Scartz Surveys became involved with this flood plain surveys as a result of federally insured mortgages requiring Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood information to be added to our residential and commercial survey plats. We soon became very aware that the flood plain maps were "approximate" at best, and that the use of the maps was intended to show Special Flood Hazard areas in general and were never meant to pinpoint locations as they are being used today.
We have found that almost all FEMA maps are lacking any vertical information and probably half don't have base flood elevations. In the early 1990's FEMA started a mapping program to test methods of getting vertical information on properties in or near Special Flood Hazard areas. Our firm became one of the sub-contractors to develop procedures to perform low cost elevation certificates.
In 1996, our firm worked on a Price-Waterhouse Coopers study to evaluate flood plain mapping, nationwide. The study was an effort to determine if a large number of properties near previously mapped flood zones would actually be in the Flood zone when elevations were determined. Our firm checked 9 out of a total of 22 communities involved in the study across the US. We found that the opposite was true. We found that a large number of properties earlier understood to be in flood zones and subject to pay flood insurance were incorrectly mapped and should be exempted from the requirement. Since then, we are not aware of FEMA actively pursuing getting elevations data on properties in flood plains.
Now it appears to us that the only means left to correct mapping errors is by the individual affected or local public works offices. In 1999, we were awarded a contract from Prince William County, VA where we did Elevation Certificates on approximately 700 houses located in a 1995 FEMA flood plain map. We successfully removed almost 40% of the listed properties from the Special Flood Hazard Area saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in needless flood insurance premiums.
While it may appear we are Anti-FEMA, that is not the case. We are strong supporters of a NFIP (National Flood Insurance Program). However being surveyors and mappers , we are strongly opposed to poor or inaccurate maps. We feel that it is unfair to mandate insurance requirements on properties located in "A" (Approximate) zones where base flood elevations have never been determined, and unless an elevation certificate is obtained and a complete flood study conducted, a property can be adversely affected for years with no reasonable way to correct for possible erroneous mapping.
We also don't understand why it is necessary for all mortgage applications to be required to pay for a Flood Certification. By reviewing data from flood determination firms, we have found that about 97% of all properties are outside of the Special Flood Hazard Areas but still have to pay between $10-25 dollars to obtain this form as part of their mortgage application. We realize that this is a relatively small expense, but when that amount is multiplied by the 15 to 20 million mortgage applications each year, this cost grows to more than 1/4 billion dollars per year, 97% of it unnecessarily. We think it would make more sense to locate the 3% of properties in the special flood hazard areas, obtain proper elevation data for verification, and create a database on the FEMA web site, available to anyone at no charge.
(FEMA Form 81-93)
Since the 1994 National Flood Insurance Reform Act was approved, mortgage lenders are required to have this form completed for every mortgage loan application. Many lenders have made it a practice to obtain this information from mapping interpretation firms that perform this service on a national scale. This works fine for properties not near Special Flood Hazard Areas, but it falls short when the property is in or near flood zones. Since in most cases, it would be impractical for these firms to make field inspections. They can only send the forms forward leaving the parties involved to resolve. Too often, the borrower has to by flood insurance he may not need, or a buyer may reject the property at the settlement table.
We feel that in almost any business situation it makes more sense to work with local professional firms than with companies thousands of miles away, especially, when there is no significant difference in price. Therefore, while we have the ability to perform flood determination nationwide, we generally limit them to our normal work region, where we can perform field elevation checks when warranted.