New flood plain mapping in Berrien County after a couple decades

Published: Jan. 14, 2020 at 11:31 PM EST
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Lake Michigan shoreline residents, property owners and realtors of Berrien County on Tuesday attended a flood map information open house hosted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

They viewed an updated, preliminary flood insurance study, otherwise known as the "Great Lakes Flood Study,” crafted by FEMA.

"We have got brand new lake levels, together with wave height levels,” senior FEMA engineer Ken Hinterlong said.

In addition, people viewed preliminary flood insurance rate maps.

Representatives from local, state and federal agencies shared areas most at risk for flood damage. They also shared flood plain development regulations and the process of flood plain mapping within Berrien County.

"People that don't deal with these issues every day don't understand how the regulations work. They don't understand how the laws work. They don't understand what they need to do to get to point A to point B,” district floor plan engineer John Bayha said.

"We can't project every event, but we can give them some general guidance through these maps, as to where to start. ... This is part of the puzzle. This is what they use to inform risk and inform how they might want to redevelop their property,” Hinterlong said.

Residents pulled up their properties on the new map to see if they were in a flood zone.

"By coming to this conference, it put my mind to ease because I'm not in a flood zone,” resident Joseph Warzecha said.

People also came with questions.

"People were talking about things such as, 'If my house is now in a flood zone and it wasn't before, how does that affect my property value? Does it affect my property value?' If, in the future, a homeowner that lives in this house has to get flood insurance, potentially,” Bayha said.

"Do I have to get flood insurance? Is it going to maybe mess up the foundation? There's things like that that you always worry about. It’s a big investment,” Warzecha said.

"But everyone wants to talk about shoreline erosion right now, which is understandable, completely. I mean the water is high, everything is eroding,” Bayha said.

Local towns that adopt maps have to go through a formal appeals process. Once adopted, they will be used as a basis for flood insurance ratings as well as local flood protection regulations under the National Flood Insurance Program.