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Island flood maps getting a digital update

Karin Stanton/Hawaii247.com Contributing Editor

The county’s flood map, which dates to 1988, is being hauled into this century via a digital update through FEMA.

The Federal Emergency Management Administration is working with state and county agencies to ensure residents and property owners are aware of the risks and know their options.

Frank DeMarco, the county’s flood plain manager, said the process may be long, complex and detailed, but it will yield a better county document.

“Basically, FEMA is upgrading their flood maps nationally. Going from paper to digital,” he said. “We are going to catch up with all the incremental changes (since the 1988 map).”

DeMarco said the new map will allow the county to keep up with development.

“This digital format will make map management so much easier,” he said. “We can keep track of where changes occur and how it affects individual properties.”

County officials, however, are concerned that when the many pieces of the map puzzle are laid over each other, they may not match up exactly.

“Any map can have its interpretation differences,” DeMarco said. “This is why we are going through the revisions with FEMA.”

The purpose of the open house meetings is to clear up any inconsistencies.

“We want people to look and see if the plain has drifted,” DeMarco said. 

Eric Simmons, FEMA senior engineer based in Oakland, Calif, said upgrading the flood insurance rate maps is a multi-step process that currently is in the public input phase. 

Once the county has compiled comments from this round of open house meetings, FEMA will adjust the map where necessary and eventually have a computerized version easily updated with zoning changes, new construction and building.

The county has joined a FEMA program that allows anyone to buy flood insurance, regardless of how their property might be zoned. Rates start at about $200 per year.

“Most flood loss is from extreme events,” Simmons said. “We want people to plan for the worst and hope for the best. We encourage preparedness and people are prepared if they know what their risk is.”

Simmons and Carol Tyau-Beam, the Department of Land and Natural Resources flood insurance program coordinator, said they have been impressed with Big Island residents who are aware of the dangers of living on the island and are pro-active about it.

“It is encouraging that people on the Big Island are aware and they want to take an active part,” Tyau-Beam said. “Compared to the rest of the state, communities here are being pro-active.”

The DLNR Engineering Division has made the Hawaii Flood Hazard Assessment Tool, or FHAT (which is probably the best acronym you’ll see all week) available online. It is “an interactive online mapping tool that offers users some insight into their flood risk. The FHAT is easy to use and offers current FEMA flood hazard data …”

Hawaii is the fourth county in the state to undergo this process, after Oahu, Kauai and Maui. The Maui map is slated for completion in September; the final Big Island map does not yet have a completion date.

Two more meetings are coming up in the next week:

* 3-8 p.m., Thursday, April 23, at the Kress Building in Hilo

* 3-8 p.m., Wednesday, April 29, at the Outrigger Keauhou Beach Resort, Keauhou

— Find out more:

Hawaii County national flood insurance program: www.hawaiinfip.org

FEMA: www.fema.gov/nfip

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