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High WaterNew maps that guide flood-insurance rates for the Florida Keys will provide unprecedented detail, Federal Emergency Management Agency officials vow.

The final maps apparently will not take effect for another five years but residents can take part in the development process along the way, FEMA representatives said Monday in Key Largo.

"The old maps tell you whether you're in [a flood zone] or out," said project manager Mark Vieira, a FEMA engineer. New maps "will tell you how much water you're going to get in your house."

Many of the flood maps now used are 30 to 40 years old. The maps are used, in large part, to set premiums for FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program.

A team working on updated flood maps in the Southeast Florida Coastal Study finishes a series of three Keys input meetings today in Key West. The session begins at 10 a.m. at the Harvey Government Center on Truman Avenue.

At meetings in Key Largo and Marathon earlier this week, FEMA staff and consultants laid out recent maps of the Keys so residents could point out possible errors or significant changes that should be noted.

That information will be included in revised maps that return to the Keys for review.

In the past, said consulting engineer Michael DelCharco, "Sometimes engineers would go off and close the curtains and you wouldn't see the maps before they took effect. Now you'll have a good idea of what's coming."

The Keys presentations included discussions of the detailed map "mesh" created by using aerial laser measurements with "much better topographic" information, and talk of ocean-bottom contours and effects on wave height.

In Key Largo, the three dozen residents who attended mostly want to know whether the changes will lower insurance rates.

Ken Davis said "years of unrestricted mangrove growth" off his Tavernier home has turned a three-acre flat into a dense mangrove stand. "If I'm going to have an obstructed view of the bay, I want to get something out of it," Davis said.

"Mangroves are some of the best protection you can have," DelCharco said. The engineers said they have nothing to say about eventual rates.

After a 2007 rate hike was imposed to cover flood losses, policy holders across the country howled.

"Congress came to FEMA and said, 'Your [flood] maps are horrible,' " Vieira said. "We told them, we agree with you."

Congress then significantly boosted the money to create new maps, which funds the current update.

"I'm a little disappointed the new maps won't be out until 2019," Upper Keys resident Lois Stormont said. "The flood-insurance rates I pay every year continue to rise but I see other parts of the country that get flooded every few years and they're allowed to rebuild in the same location."

The FEMA team noted that water-depth information is available for most of the Keys' Atlantic shoreline, but depths of Florida Bay are less detailed.

The ongoing study uses models of "hundreds of hurricanes" since in-depth weather information became available in the 1950s to estimate possible water surge.

"The models capture all the different features" of coastal areas, DelCharco said. "We want to make sure we get it right."

The study also expects to outline possible mitigation steps so homeowners can better protect their property.

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Protect yourself from the financial burden flood damage can bring. Call Prestige Insurance Group, Inc. at (305) 969-8776 for more information on Miami flood insurance.

(Article courtesy: Kevin Wadlow, KeysInfoNet)
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