VantagePoint: More to Maps than Meets the Eye

A 654Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

Those of us who must determine where the regulated floodplains are located on a site are intimately familiar with the mapping of floodprone areas available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). We know that a copy of the paper map was the only legal document identifying the 1%-annual chance floodplains until the National Flood Insurance Reform Act of 1994 acknowledged that digital versions of FEMA’s flood maps were every bit as acceptable as the paper maps, particularly in the instance of newer maps that were created digitally in the first place and then published on paper. We also know that before relying on any map, we must check for any updates or modifications to them published in the form of Letters of Map Change (LOMC). These documents are just as important to the interpretation of floodplain maps as referenced subdivision maps are to the deeds that call for them. Letters of Map Amendment (LOMA) and Letters of Map Revision (LOMR) are much more accessible these days than they have been in years past, due to the constant improvements made to the Map Service Center website (http://msc.fema.gov). Keeping up with and ahead of changes is important for successful business operations, and we should take note of the fact that FEMA published several requests for comments on existing forms earlier this year, a clue that the subjects of these "information collection activities" will be changing in the not too distant future. According to the dates stamped in their headers, some of the forms have been "expired" for some time, but they are valid until superseded by new versions. We should also keep in mind that a notice published in the Federal Register on July 31 increased the fees for many applications and products, with an effective date of October 1, 2007. This could make a difference in the prices we quote our clients for floodplain-related services.

A call for comments on Form 81-92 (also known as the MT-EZ) came out in the April 20 Federal Register, combined with the call regarding the Spanish version, Form 81-92A. This is the application form for amending the floodplain designation for a single residential lot or structure, provided that the site is not situated on fill that was placed after the identification of the relevant floodplain. Because the LOMA that results from a successful MT-EZ application "amends" a map that "inadvertently included" an area in the mapped floodplain, there has never been a charge for this application, and it will remain free of charge after October 1.

The June 25 issue of the Federal Register called for comments on the Form 81-87 series (MT-1). This application for Letters of Map Revision Based on Fill (LOMR-F), Conditional Letters of Map Amendment, or Conditional LOMR-F includes the usual property location and identification, with elevation information to indicate base flood elevation information and how it was determined. For areas of fill, the Community Acknowledgement Form in this set is a critical part of the application. The fees for applications dated October 1 or later will vary depending upon the kind of Letter request, just as before, but all rates will increase.

Finally, the MT-2 series, Form 81-89 and all of its various pages A through E, came up for comment in the April 10 issue of the Federal Register. These are the forms used in the applications for the most complex changes to floodplain maps, requiring submittal of hydraulic and hydrologic data, as well as a certified statement from the local community that the changes reflected in the requested LOMR will comply with minimum floodplain management criteria specified in 44 CFR 60.3, which provides the mandatory basis for local regulation in all communities participating in the National Flood Insurance Program. Yes, the fees for these applications will also rise as of October 1.

The scheduled fee changes will extend to some of the data accessed through the Map Service Center. FIRMettes, the user-made extractions from current maps, will remain free of charge. Other map and insurance products will be subject to increases in processing fees and shipping costs to reflect FEMA’s actual cost. Federal, state, and local governments will continue to be exempt from paying fees for map products.

Not all the news on the flood mapping front is gloomy, however. The Map Service Center (MSC) website continually evolves in its quest for accessibility and usefulness. If you are looking for a specific Letter of Map Change (Amendment or Revision) and know its Case Number, you can go to it directly through the link for Engineers and Surveyors on the MSC home page. If you don’t know the Case Number, you can find applicable LOMC listed in the Product Catalog as a pull-down for the relevant panel listed within the community. If you are looking for Digital Flood Insurance Rate Map (DFIRM) databases, these can be accessed directly from the home page, in the same manner as finding a desired paper map panel (pull down menus for state, county, community).

One of the most significant additions to the MSC site is access to historic flood maps for the entire United States. This archival data can be critically important to design professionals and community officials. For example, suppose you had performed survey services on a site in 1989, based upon the Flood Insurance Rate Map in effect at the time, and the client, who still owns the site, comes back to you threatening to sue because you misidentified the flood zone on the property. It is important to be able to pull out a copy of the map you used in 1989, which may show a completely different flood zone or different base flood elevation from the newer map now in effect. The historic map archive on the MSC site allows creation of FIRMettes in the same manner as current maps. Historic maps inform us of horizontal and vertical changes in floodplains, which can also assist us in site planning.

Another "historic data" addition to the MSC site is Flood Boundary Floodway (FBFW) maps. These were originally published separately from the Flood Hazard Boundary Maps (FHBM) until both were combined in 1985 as Flood Insurance Rate Maps. FBFW maps provide important information regarding flood hazards within a community, and are now available (for the communities where they were created) through the link for Flood Insurance Studies (FIS) under "Product Catalog".

Wendy Lathrop is licensed as a Professional Land Surveyor in NJ, PA, DE, and MD, and has been involved since 1974 in surveying projects ranging from construction to boundary to environmental land use disputes. She is a Professional Planner in NJ, and a Certified Floodplain Manager through ASFPM.

A 654Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

About the Author

Wendy Lathrop, PS, CFM

Wendy Lathrop is licensed as a Professional Land Surveyor in NJ, PA, DE, and MD, and has been involved since 1974 in surveying projects ranging from construction to boundary to environmental land use disputes. She is a Professional Planner in NJ, and a Certified Floodplain Manager through ASFPM.