Questions about the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s floodplain mapping have gone beyond inquiries into the agency’s technical expertise. The FBI is now investigating whether graft and corruption were involved in FEMA’s re-mapping of oceanfront condominiums out of the floodplain.
Previous Pocahontas Times articles have focused on baffling local floodplain map discrepancies. Now, following a series of reports by NBC News investigative reporter Bill Dedman, the FBI wants to know why more than 500 high-dollar oceanfront properties were moved out of high-risk flood zones, saving owners as much as 97 percent on their flood insurance premiums.
According to Dedman’s most recent report for NBC News, the FBI has been questioning FEMA officials in Washington, D.C. for the last two weeks. Employees of FEMA contractors involved with the map changes are also being interviewed. Investigators from the Office of the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security are reported to be closely monitoring the investigation.
According to Dedman’s latest report, neither FEMA nor the FBI will comment on the ongoing investigation at this time.
Following a series of articles in The Pocahontas Times describing floodplain map discrepancies in Pocahontas County, two floodplain coordinators with the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security visited Marlinton in Jnauary. The coordinators offered assistance in resolving any floodplain discrepancies.
Marlinton floodplain coordinator Richard Groseclose said on Monday that he asked the two officials to look into the floodplain discrepancies, but had not yet received a response. Groseclose said he planned to follow up on the issue with the officials this week.
In Marlinton, areas that have never flooded – including a house on a hilltop behind the Courthouse – were included in the floodplain by a 2012 FEMA map revision. Other areas in the town that have historically flooded were inexplicably excluded from the floodplain. The seemingly arbitrary changes baffled and angered many town residents who were forced to purchase flood insurance, although their properties have never flooded – even during the cataclysmic flood of 1985.
In Cass, incredulous changes resulted from the 2012 map revision. Lots near the Greenbrier River that were purchased by the county with FEMA flood mitigation money were excluded from the floodplain – raising grave doubts about the accuracy of FEMA’s floodplain mapping process.
Dedman emailed The Pocahontas Times on Friday to highlight problems with FEMA’s floodplain mapping process.
“These elements remain unanswered by the federal officials: Why does FEMA ask for local concurrence from the floodplain administrator if it’s not going to take it into consideration when the administrator opposes the change?,” Dedman wrote. “That sticks out particularly when it’s relying on data submitted by an engineer who has never even been in the state where the property is located. And why does the left hand at FEMA (the mapping side) not get information from the right hand (the insurance claims side) so it’s at least aware when it’s remapping a property with repetitive losses? And why does FEMA remap properties between applicants (to make the maps pretty?) when those areas have not been studied?”
FEMA Director William Fugate has not responded to a Pocahontas Times Freedom of Information Act request for documentation of how floodplain map changes affecting Pocahontas County were made. If local officials do not receive the information through consultations with the state floodplain coordinators, the newspaper will seek the assistance of state and federal elected officials to get the information from FEMA.
Dedman’s latest NBC News article on the FBI’s floodplain investigation and links to all of Dedman’s articles can be found at www.nbcnews.com/news/investigations/fbi-investigates-fema-flood-map-changes-after-nbc-news-report-n62906.