Canyon County on probation from National Flood Insurance Program

Canyon County residents with flood insurance will have to pay an extra $50 over the next year, because Canyon County does not comply with the federal government’s flood insurance program.

The Canyon County commissioners clashed with the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency in December after the federal agency announced that the county was on probation in the National Flood Insurance Program.

FEMA put the county on probation Dec. 21. County commissioners, meanwhile, say they have dedicated hundreds of staff hours to bringing itself back up to compliance.

The county had four properties along the Boise River to bring up to compliance with the flood insurance program when it was placed on probation.

Communities that participate in the National Flood Insurance Program must issue a special permit for any development in a designated special flood-hazard area. In 2015, when FEMA officials visited Canyon County to conduct the agency’s most recent community-assistance visit, they found that multiple developments within the county’s special flood-hazard Area that did not have the correct permits.

A special flood-hazard area has a 1% chance or greater of being flooded in any given year, according to FEMA. Development within the area must adhere to the county’s floodplain development code, which aims to reduce losses from flooding by setting minimum elevation requirements and other rules.

Canyon County has floodways along the Boise River in the north and northeast parts of the county, the Snake River along the southern border and along Indian Creek and Mason Creek in Nampa and Caldwell.

The county has 174 households or businesses with flood insurance, said Joe Decker, the county’s spokesperson. Those residents will see the $50 fee on their flood insurance until Dec. 21, 2022.

The Canyon County flood plain map shows the property around Boise River as the county’s most flood prone area.

“Since the 2015 community assistance visit, the county has created or corrected permits and provided additional documentation for many of the deficiencies; however, multiple deficiencies remain, resulting in the current probationary status for Canyon County,” said Kristen Meyers, director of the mitigation division for FEMA Region 10, in an email to the Statesman.

FEMA demands compliance

In March 2021, FEMA required that Canyon County provide a compliance plan to correct the problems. The county eventually submitted a plan that met FEMA’s requirements in June.

That plan outlined how the county would get the correct permits for six properties in the flood-hazard area. The county promised to bring those properties up to compliance by Aug. 16, but it failed with four of them.

“During that 120 days, the county resolved two additional deficiencies,” Meyers said. “Four properties remain for the county to address while in probationary status.”

Canyon County corrected numerous other problems. It adopted a new ordinance in 2019 that addressed deficiencies with its floodplain management ordinance. It also corrected and issued permits for the other 69 developments in the Special Flood Plain Area.

Commissioners think this is enough.

Commissioner Keri Smith said one of the four properties is waiting for approval from FEMA. Another of the properties is a horse barn, and the other two are homes, she said by phone.

Smith said the homes were likely not permitted correctly because of confusion about whether the homes were in the flood plain area. If the homes were not in the area, they would not have been flagged to follow the flood plain ordinance and be elevated, she said.

“We have been pursuing mediation on the houses, but we can’t just go on someone’s property,” Smith said.

Commissioners: Flooding affects pocketbooks

The commissioners’ efforts demonstrate a “commitment on the county’s behalf to continue to make flood insurance available to its citizens at the lowest expense possible,” the commissioners said in a news release.

“We took this seriously, because flooding can happen, and this impacts each of these policy owners’ pocketbooks, and we are disappointed in FEMA’s actions against the county.”

If Canyon County does not correct the problems, FEMA could suspend it from the national insurance protection program, meaning that if a flood occurs, most types of federal disaster assistance would not be available to county residents.

Smith, who was previously the state floodplain coordinator for Idaho and the Canyon County floodplain administrator, said the Boise River does pose flood risks for county residents. The river has flooded in the last 10-20 years, she said, when there is significant snow or rain. But Canyon County has not had a flood insurance claim in decades, she said.

She worries with the added fee, some residents could decide to drop their national insurance protection.

FEMA said 2017 marked the most recent presidentially declared flood in Canyon County. The Canyon County hazard mitigation plan identifies flooding as a medium risk within the county.

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