County finalizing Clearwater River floodplain maps; some fear insurance hikes
(Missoula Current) With a deadline set by FEMA, Missoula County is working to complete a new flood hazard map for the Clearwater River, and the findings could require some residents to pick up flood insurance.
Matt Heimel with county planning said the newly mapped floodplain will bring at least 22 parcels into the Clearwater River's special flood hazard area, and 180 parcels will remain in the zone.
“We map areas that have a 1% chance of flooding to a certain extent in any given year,” Heimel said. “Some were already in the floodplain, and 22 parcels were brought into the special flood area. But no additional structures were brought into the flood way, which is good news.”
Still, several residents along the Clearwater River said they weren't aware that the mapping process was taking place and the findings could burden them with thousands of dollars in flood insurance.
One resident, who identified himself as William, said he was “dismayed” to learn of the amended map.
“My property is on a high bank of the Clearwater River, about 15 or 20 feet above the river. It would take a rainfall of 40 days and 40 nights for my property to experience any flooding of the Clearwater,” he said. “This is the first I've heard that I'll be apparently included in this floodplain regulation.”
Heimel said Missoula County has maintained flood maps since 1974, though the last countywide update occurred in 2015 when old paper maps were converted to digital format with no new study.
The Clearwater study began in 2012 using LiDAR to create a topographic image of the ground. That was followed with a Department of Natural Resources on Conservation hydrology study in 2017. Preliminary floodplain maps were created in 2022 and must be ratified by Missoula County by October, according to FEMA.
In exchange for federally backed flood insurance, Missoula County regulates new development within the 100-year floodplain. Floodplain permits are required for new construction and any modifications to existing structures.
“These floodplain maps have a direct role in determining flood insurance requirements and flood insurance rates,” said Heimel. “The lender may require flood insurance and if it's a special hazard area, flood insurance is a requirement for any federally backed mortgage.”
Heimel said lenders can also require insurance in low-risk areas at their discretion. Flood insurance is also available to renters for content coverage.
But some residents aren't pleased with the changes, including those that have a mortgage on their property or are looking to finance any improvements.
William, the Clearwater resident, said he was planning to make improvements and the changes may require him to pay thousands of dollars more in flood insurance.
“That money is directed to areas of the county that flood on a regular basis, like those who build their homes on the banks of the Mississippi River,” he said. “I think it's extremely unfair that I have to subsidize that circumstance.”