Combine an extreme high tide with 3-foot waves from a big storm, and Homer residents and visitors know what can happen.
Waves crash on the Homer Spit, throwing up rocks and tossing driftwood onto the road. Some areas flood. The sea beats at the pilings of Kachemak Bay beach boardwalks. Even the inner bay side of the Spit isn't safe. If the storm comes from the Mud Bay side, waves can slam over breakwaters, as happened in November of 2002 and 2007.
Storm-driven tides can flood much of the Spit. But how much? If you're a building owner looking to get flood insurance, how high are the rates? If you're planning to build, how high up does a building have to go on pilings or fill to be safe?
Recently, city, state and federal officials held a workshop to answer questions about a revised, preliminary flood insurance rate map, or FIRM, the Federal Emergency Management Agency released in April. The maps are the basis for federal guidelines on flood insurance and building codes in flood areas. Communities like Homer that participate in the federal flood insurance program adopt the maps into city regulations, too.
The 2011 draft map showed that the Fish Dock Road area should be in the 1-percent flood area, meaning in any given year there's a 1-in-100 chance of a flood. The revision puts that area in the 0.2-percent flood area, or 1-in-500 chance of a flood — good news for the city with facilities like the ice plant and cranes in the dock area.
"I didn't see anything that made me feel uneasy," Homer City Planner Rick Abboud said of the latest revision.
Land's End Resort owner Jon Faulkner said he agreed with the new maps, too.
"I support it fully," Faulkner said. "By and large Land's End is happy with the results. It's more just and accurate, but it took a long time to get here."
FEMA's reconsideration of flood plain maps might have been spurred by the involvement of U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. At a Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee meeting last October, Murkowski raised concerns about proposed flood plain maps in Juneau and Homer with FEMA director Craig Fugate.
"Some of what we saw was actually more than a little bit bizarre," Murkowski told Fugate, according to a Juneau Empire story.
That was then. Now, Murkowski is happy with FEMA's change in attitude.
"Sen. Murkowski is extremely pleased that she was able to raise the profile of Homer's mapping issues and expedite a solution that addresses the community's needs," said Matthew Felling, Murkowski's communications director. "She's also optimistic that this represents a higher level of commitment to engage with communities that are proactively spotlighting where FEMA's policies fell short."
The revised draft maps haven't been adopted yet by FEMA. That will come after a 90-day comment period to be announced sometime this month. Land and building owners can challenge the maps through either a letter of map amendment, showing proof the structure is above the base flood elevation, or through a letter of map revision, providing technical information why the owner believes the map is wrong.
Once the comment period is over and FEMA has considered comments, it will issue a letter of final determination.
Used with permission of the Homer News. Michael Armstrong is a Homer News reporter and can be reached here.