It’s fair to say that the city of La Crosse with its flood-prone neighborhoods and three rivers as neighbors has a stake in knowing the best information about flooding risk and flood insurance.
Just one prominent example: The city has launched the Riverside North development where, in a few years, something north of $100 million in commercial and mixed residential buildings will be built on land to be filled and raised out of the flood plain.
Decisions on where there is flood risk are fraught with concerns about costs to property owners and liability.
So the city and every place else in America where there is a risk of flooding should give the Federal Emergency Management Agency a nudge to get its Technical Mapping Advisory Council back in business.
E&E News, a news organization focusing on energy and the environment, reported recently that most of the seats on the council remain unfilled due to lack of vetting from the White House and, lacking a quorum, the council cannot meet.
According to the FEMA website, the council was established in 2012 to advise FEMA and “ensure that flood insurance rate maps reflect the best available science and are based on the best available methodologies for considering the impact of future development on flood risk.”
Suzanne Jiwani, the floodplain planning engineer for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, is the council member located closest to Wisconsin and is among those waiting to hear from FEMA on her reappointment.
She said in a telephone interview that her focus in the past year has been to develop guidance for FEMA on how to communicate uncertainties without undermining FEMA credibility. She granted that among the uncertainties is the future effects of climate change. She works as a volunteer, not as part of her DNR job.
The council is also working on more attention to urban flooding as opposed to river flooding, the conventional FEMA focus. FEMA is also studying using its mapping program to increase flood insurance coverage nationally.
Jiwani noted that the council is taking the long view on its assignments and that the delay in its 2018 report and other work doesn’t bear on more immediate concerns, such as the risk this year for flooding here, which is seen as “above to well-above normal” by the National Weather Service.
And the city is up to date on its floodplain work, according to Lewis Kuhlman, environmental planner in the city planning department. He noted that flooding issues are part of the tasks assigned to the city’s consulting firm, Short Elliot Hendrickson.
Long view or not, this is a big deal for the city and for the federal effort to come to grips with the rising costs of disaster claims due to climate change. The federal flood insurance program, for example, is billions of dollars in debt due to high claims from hurricanes in recent years.
The SEH website notes: “To ensure long-term viability, it is imperative that these (flood-prone) communities consider flood resiliency and preparedness as an essential part of doing business, rather than reacting during a flood or cleaning up after a flood. The long-term success of any resilient community will depend on its ability to research, plan, implement, involve stakeholders and fund their flood risk mitigation projects.”
The website cites La Crosse as one of the communities taking such steps.
Jason Gilman, the city’s director of planning and development, said in a telephone interview that there is a range of technical issues where the advisory council could be helpful to the city.
So it’s time for the federal partner in all this to get its act together. The uncertainties demand it.