IN government, small changes can have big consequences. Take the Federal Emergency Management Agency's redrawing of flood plain maps. That simple change now threatens to derail economic development efforts and punish many homeowners with increased compliance costs.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in Shawnee. Thanks to the new maps, portions of the hospital and airport are now considered part of a flood plain, and a long-running effort to attract a national chain restaurant may be thwarted. The Shawnee Mission Plaza has been in constant development for 20 years with no problem. But now FEMA demands that officials conduct a new hydrology study for the 152-acre development before an eatery can be added.
That understandably frustrates local officials, who already paid for a hydrology study in 2006. The new study, they note, will provide no new detail, but will cost an extra $50,000 and delay the restaurant project for months, if not derail it.
The problem goes beyond the fate of one eating spot in Shawnee. U.S. Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, notes that FEMA's new maps require more homeowners to obtain flood insurance — unless they obtain an independent engineering study proving their property is not in the flood plain. He said that roughly 100 citizens and businesses have obtained those studies and not one has been found to actually be in a flood plain. At a cost of $1,500 per study, that's $150,000 wasted.
In some cases, FEMA's concerns appear ridiculous. Lankford notes an elevated taxiway at the Shawnee airport is included in the flood plain under FEMA's new maps. “If this taxiway goes underwater,” Lankford said, “everyone in this area is in trouble.”