CANNON BEACH — For the past two years, Cheri Lerma of Cheri’s Cafe & Cannon Beach Cookie has spent almost $10,000 on flood insurance she knows she doesn’t need.
As a part of a countywide study by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, preliminary mapping in 2014 showed flood hazard zones shrinking by 27 percent in Cannon Beach. The changes take almost all of downtown out of a zone that requires mandatory flood insurance.
But the federal government has been slow to adopt new flood plain hazard maps, leaving some downtown businesses like Lerma’s to pay thousands of dollars in insurance.
A letter of determination, which ratifies the new maps, is scheduled to be delivered later this month, said David Ratté, a regional engineer for FEMA. After the city receives the letter, it will go through a six-month adoption period before the maps will be recognized.
“In my mind, I’ve taken a match to $10,000,” Lerma said. “Everyone knows I’m not in the zone, but because it hasn’t been ratified I have to pay for it. Some bigger companies could withstand this, but to me, a small business? Paying this much can knock me out of the park.”
The project to update flooding risks along the coast started more than seven years ago.
There are a few reasons FEMA’s mapping project has faced delays, Ratté said. Concerns with the draft coastal analysis in the Columbia River Estuary, as well as assessments of a levee in Warrenton, stalled creating preliminary maps. While Gearhart, Seaside and Cannon Beach raised no concerns about the maps, Ratté said separating out these communities from the estuary would have been costly and logistically difficult.
“This mapping project was tied together as a countywide effort,” Ratté said. “When we shared draft information in 2013, there were concerns with some of the results in the estuary.”
But the delays have cost Steve Sinkler, who owns The Wine Shack and Lazy Susan in Cannon Beach, thousands of dollars in insurance.
Sinkler attended a FEMA open house last year where it was projected that the new maps were to be adopted by this spring. He had recently purchased the two properties, and was working with his mortgage company and FEMA to reconcile the discrepancies between the maps and how much he would have to pay in flood insurance. Through this process he went from being required to pay the highest level of insurance to not being required to buy flood insurance at all.
“We saw that timeline and thought, ‘Great, we won’t have to pay $9,000 by this time next year,’” Sinkler said. “But then we had to again.”
The appeal process did not start until the fall, mostly due to the change in presidential administrations, which stalled the publication of most, if not all, notifications in the Federal Register, Ratté said. Cities now will be expected to update any necessary flood ordinances around the summer of 2018.
‘Government moves slowly’
A lack of communication about the status of the project is what has driven people like Bruce Francis, the property manager of Breakers Point Condominiums, to raise the profile of the issue at city meetings. Since 2015, Francis has been paying thousands of dollars in insurance for two buildings out of 20 that touch the boundary of the flood zone.
“People aren’t fully aware of the circumstances, I think. With so much money involved, people should be more aware of it,” Francis said. “We know government moves slowly, but we’ve waited. And now we are making noise and complaining.”