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Kandiyohi County Zoning Administrator Gary Geer looks Tuesday at new county flood zone maps proposed by FEMA and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The maps are valuable tools that provide property owners, local governments, emergency managers, building inspectors, real estate agents and developers with vital information about flood risk, flood insurance and development regulations. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

FEMA finishes Kandiyohi County, Minn., preliminary floodplain maps

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news Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR — Seven years after errors were identified and revisions requested, new preliminary maps that define floodplains in Kandiyohi County have been completed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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The maps, available for review at the county zoning office in downtown Willmar, are valuable tools that provide property owners, local governments, emergency managers, building inspectors, real estate agents and developers with vital information about flood risk, flood insurance and development regulations.

A public meeting will be conducted April 16 in Willmar where landowners can tell FEMA their concerns about the boundaries that have been identified in the “Zone A” floodplain.

The last time FEMA completed a set of floodplain maps for Kandiyohi County was in 2006.

But when the maps were given to local officials for initial review, they quickly identified serious errors and the maps were sent back for revisions.

The process had been stalled until now. There has been no reason given for the long delay, but during their meeting Tuesday, the Kandiyohi County Commissioners said they were pleased that the process was back on track with corrected maps.

“The maps have changed dramatically,” said Kandiyohi County Zoning Administrator Gary Geer in a later interview.

In the 2006 maps FEMA had put a significant chunk of the county in a flood zone.

“Whole farms were” in floodplain maps,” said Commissioner Harlan Madsen. “Even the hills were floodplain situations.”

What the map makers failed to recognize in 2006 was the volume capacity of the numerous agricultural drainage ditches that run throughout the county.

“Somehow their models missed the volume of the ditches,” Geer said.

Without calculating and recognizing the water storage capacity of those ditches, wide expanses of the county were put into flood zones.  

The southern half of the county, which is flat farmland with large drainage ditches, was “blue” with the identifying lines of the flood zones, Geer said. Those 2006 maps were never presented to the public and never enacted.

“They realized their error,” Geer said.

The new maps, which basically define flood zones as immediate areas around lakes and streams, are a more accurate representation of the county, Geer said. “It’s a great improvement over what was submitted in 2006.”

At the meeting in April, the public will be able to talk to officials from FEMA and the Minnesota Department of Transportation about insurance issues, flood protection standards, regulatory requirements, state programs and flood mitigation techniques.

Geer said it will also be an opportunity for landowners to make sure their property is or is not in a flood zone on the map.

It’s easier to “make the most accurate map you can” during the preliminary approval process rather than try to make corrections afterward if homeowners realize, too late, that their property is incorrectly listed in a flood zone.

The meeting, which will be conducted from 4 to 6 p.m. April 16 at the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services Building, will include the “flood insurance study” and “flood insurance rate maps” that provide base flood information and delineate areas subject to significant flood hazards within the county. It also provides information that public officials can use when permitting development in the floodplain, according to information from FEMA.

Once the maps are approved, they will have a “profound” impact on planners, builders and insurance companies, said Madsen, who stressed the importance of the public’s attendance at the meeting.

One component the maps do not include is the latest technology of light or laser imaging detection and ranging that provides elevation on the maps.

Geer said that issue will be brought up at the April meeting in hopes that it can be layered on top of the preliminary maps to provide additional land information.

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