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Bozeman questions FEMA’s take on downtown flood risks

Swaths of downtown Bozeman might get new rules to live by as a federal agency redraws the map of where nature could collide with the city. City hall and people invested in keeping Main Street pretty and busy are spending a chunk of money to ensure those changes are justified.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, tries to predict and respond to disasters. Where they say that could happen tends to be followed by more regulations and, typically, higher expenses tied to lightening the possible impact of those events.

For the last five years, the agency has worked to update its floodplain map for parts of Bozeman. The preliminary map plasters red and yellow zones throughout the city’s main strip, highlighting dangers for flooding from Bozeman Creek tributaries.

The last time the map was drawn was the late 1980s. Downtown Bozeman Partnership Executive Chris Naumann said it’s important that what replaces that map is accurate.

“The new map that’s ultimately generated from all this work, we as a community and this downtown will be operating under for decades,” Naumann said before the Bozeman City Commission on Monday night.

Future building and remodels in certain areas could either get a lot more complicated or won’t happen. Those in other areas — like the two vacant lots left empty after the 2009 gas explosion — would have a lot more federal regulations to meet before building happens.

Future and current buildings would also have higher rates for flood insurance. That can add up, especially for an already expensive part of town for developers and residents.

Senior Engineer Brian Heaston told commissioners this week that the city has worked with FEMA over the last year to get the OK to fact-check that federal map through a third-party, Allied Engineering.

He said in January, FEMA approved the process by which Bozeman is double-checking its work. But if Bozeman’s results differ, there’s no guarantee the federal agency will agree with the city’s take.

Heaston told commissioners they needed more funding to enter the next phase of that effort.

“It’s worth rolling the dice in order for flood hazards to be accurately represented for the entire community, particularly the downtown area,” he said.

Heaston said the project has cost about $100,000 so far. The next step — mapping the next floodplain models and continued work with FEMA — is expected to cost roughly $60,000.

At this point, both the Downtown Business Improvement District and Downtown Urban Renewal District have thrown money into the mix.

The urban renewal district announced in February that it would provide $50,000 for the expanded scope of floodplain work to be completed by Allied Engineering. The Downtown Business Improvement District set aside $10,000.

The city commission unanimously approved the next steps Monday with Commissioner I-Ho Pomeroy absent.

Deputy Mayor Chris Mehl said he felt the need to point out what he called a flaw in the FEMA process.

“Cities like Bozeman that have a TIF district and thriving downtown can afford to go through this,” Mehl said. “But if you’re a small community in Montana or elsewhere in the country, you basically take the FEMA map and that’s the end of the story.”

Published on March 8, 2018 on the bozemandailychronicle.com.

By | 2018-04-04T05:44:18+00:00 August 13th, 2018|Hydrology, Land Survey, Storm Water|