FARGO – About 2,300 structures will be thrown into the floodplain here come Jan. 16.

That’s when Fargo’s new 100-year floodplain map that has been in the works since 2008 will officially take effect, city officials announced Tuesday.

The new Federal Emergency Management Agency map sets the 100-year flood stage on the Red River in Fargo at 39.4 feet, up from the current level of 38.5 feet.

The biggest impacts in the city are south of Interstate 94 and north of Hector International Airport, where thousands of homes will now be forced to buy flood insurance as part of their federally backed mortgages.

But for Fargo, the worst may be yet to come. City leaders are worried that FEMA will eventually use U.S. Army Corps of Engineer diversion-related data and set the 100-year flood level even higher, possibly throwing more than 19,000 structures into the floodplain.

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The city isn’t certain when FEMA will start using the corps data, City Engineer April Walker said during a news conference.

“They (FEMA) have the model that we created through the diversion project that shows that we really should be thinking about higher hydrologics,” she said.

There has also been some talk of making low-risk policies mandatory even for homeowners protected by levees, Walker said. Currently, homes protected by certified levee systems are removed from the floodplain and aren’t required to have flood insurance.

“That hasn’t happened yet, but there is certainly some discussion on the national level about changing the program to include that type of policy,” she said. 

Fargo leaders used the news conference to stress the importance of the Fargo-Moorhead diversion project, which would funnel water around the metro during major floods and lower the Red River through town to 35 feet.

“Having been in this process for probably longer than I should be, I think this is the best plan for our community. And the sooner the better,” Mayor Dennis Walaker said.

For more on the new maps, visit www.fargofloodinsurance.com. 

Cheaper rates available

Walker said the map that takes effect in January is the same map the city has been discussing for some time.

“If you’ve gone and looked at your property and identified that you’re in or out, the status is still the same,” she said.

There still is an opportunity for homeowners who need flood insurance to get rates cheaper than what their risk level is. If you apply for a policy before the new maps become effective, you can get the cheapest policy – what’s known as a “preferred-risk” policy.

For $150,000 worth of dwelling coverage and $60,000 worth of content coverage in Fargo, that preferred-risk plan costs $388 a year, said Justin Holten, agency manager for Derek Christopherson’s State Farm in Fargo.

When the new map becomes effective, homeowners can keep the cheap policy for a minimum of two years, and in the third year they can apply for a low- or moderate-risk rate despite living in a high-risk area, Walker said.

In ballpark figures, the low- to moderate-risk policies are about double the cost of a preferred-risk rate. A high-risk policy is about three or four times the cost of a preferred-risk rate, Holten said.

While the federal government has recently made sweeping changes to the National Flood Insurance Program, cheaper rates were grandfathered in through the efforts of the North Dakota congressional delegation, Walker said.

“Normally, they would’ve moved into a high-risk category because that’s where the map shows them,” she said. “But they are allowed to remain in the low-risk category.”

City officials urged residents who need flood insurance to not to wait until the last minute.

“There is a 30-day waiting period,” Walaker said. “So you can’t wait until Jan. 16 to be on the preferred list.”

In Moorhead, a new FEMA map was adopted in 2012 and only 178 structures are in the 100-year floodplain.

Of those, 146 structures are within areas of flood protection projects and the city anticipates they will eventually be removed from the floodplain when certifiable protection is in place, said City Engineer Bob Zimmerman.

Twenty-two of the structures are outside project limits and have declined buyout offers, Zimmerman said.

Even higher?

The corps figures a 100-year flood on the Red River in Fargo is 41 feet, Walker said, which would put 19,400 structures into the floodplain.

The city earlier this year approved a new flood-proofing policy to match those corps numbers. It requires new homes built in Fargo that would be inundated during a 41-foot flood to have certified flood-proofed foundations or basements. The lowest opening of the home would need to be at least at a 42-foot elevation.

“We’re already working off the corps’ hydrology,” Walker said.

Fargo also continues to work with FEMA to ensure that Fargo’s basement exemption, which allows homeowners to build fortified basements in the floodplain, can continue, she said.