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SRWMD Makes A Surprise Visit to the Columbia County 5 About FEMA Flood Maps – It Would Have Been Nice If the Public Knew

Suwannee River Water Management Board member Charlie Keith
Columbia County Observer photo

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – This past Thursday evening, the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD), or at least one member of the governor’s Board and the District’s PR guy, showed up at a County Commission meeting to discuss FEMA flood maps. It would have been nice if folks knew they were coming and why.


Leroy Marshall with link to WMD on Fema Flood maps
More information about the SRWMD and the FEMA flood maps can be found here.

According to figures obtained from the Water Management District, since 2014, FEMA has provided approximately $12,386,417 in funding that would be utilized for updated flood maps, associated project management, and outreach activities. Costs associated with the Santa Fe Watershed Flood Risk Review Study amounted to approximately $1.8 million in federal funding. Columbia County is wholly in the Sante Fe River Basin.

When FEMA’s proposed flood maps came out last year, apoplexy spread throughout the region when people realized that areas that were never before in flood zones were included in the redrawn maps.

The Water Management District and the County fathers encouraged all those affected by the new maps to reach out and write letters challenging the new flood zone areas.

The water management district also had a series of public meetings to explain the issues.

Thursday at the County 5 (County Commission)
A breakdown in communication had the WMD playing to a mostly empty house

At 4:10 pm on the afternoon before the meeting, the County posted on its website an additional agenda for add-ons for its meeting the following evening. The last item: Presentation by SRWMD.

The next morning, Thursday, at about 10 am, your reporter noticed the additional agenda and called County headquarters to find out the purpose of the meeting. No one knew, or at least no one was talking.

Thursday afternoon, your reporter spoke with the District’s PR person, Troy Roberts, and was advised that Board member Charlie Keith was attending the County Commission meeting to give an update on the FEMA flood maps.

In the final analysis, it is unclear who dropped the ball and why the public was not advised that the water management district was appearing before the Columbia County Commission with virtually no notice to the public and no reason for its appearance.

Mostly empty Columbia County Commission meeting
Discounting the 5 County employees, not many saw the Water Management District presentation. The final County budget hearing was later in the meeting.

WMD Bd Member Charlie Keith Addressed the County 5

Mr. Keith came to the microphone: “Good evening, board. I'm Charles Keith of the Suwannee River Water Management District. Thank you for giving us a minute tonight to pass you out a little information to keep you abreast of where we're at on the risk maps for the Santa Fe Basin. As you know, in the spring this year, when we came out – FEMA came out with the map; we were all quite alarmed at the massive areas that it took in. We had public comment meetings. I don't have the exact number, but [there were] 530 written objections from Columbia County residents.”

Mr. Keith continued, “With that information, we went back to FEMA and asked for an extension to give us more time to assimilate the information... They granted that, so as we looked it over, we decided that the matrix, the basis, was just not accurate, and we needed a different matrix to work with.”

Mr. Keith explained what happened next. “Well, FEMA agreed that on your time, if you can supply us with sufficient information, we should go back and redo the maps; we would look at it. Well, staff spent a lot of time… We had new lidar, which was – that was an easy step, but we went back to soil samples on permits that we had in the area so that we understood some of the soil absorption rates in the areas and stuff. So we were able to put together a much better matrix for the map.”

SRWMD-FEMA Santa Fe basin flood mapsMr. Keith brought a sample of the new maps on a thumb drive. He explained that in March or April, the WMD would be doing "some public hearings."

Commissioner Hollingsworth, the Commission blurter who starts talking whenever he wants, said, "So this is closer to what we're kind of looking at. That’s amazing.”

A little while later, Mr. Hollingsworth said he and his family have property that the previous flood maps affected.

Troy Roberts Presents the Re-Fried Maps

Troy Roberts and Charlie Keith in Columbia County
WMD PR guy Troy Roberts presented 4 slides and answered questions along with Mr. Keith.

Mr. Roberts brought along slides that were projected on the school district's screens. Anyone watching at home would not have been able to see the WMD presentation.

Mr. Roberts told the County 5 that the WMD would restart the process in the spring, allowing people to weigh in and that the maps were not finalized and still under development.

Mr. Roberts said, “We’re looking at up to a 75% reduction in the new flood zones. So only 25% of those that we originally thought were going to be flood zones will be flood zones moving forward.”

After Commissioner Hollingsworth blurted in again without being recognized, Mr. Keith said, “You had a lot of families that were gonna get hit with a flood insurance for their mortgage. Yeah. And the economy like it is, they're barely hanging on. People would be losing their homes. I mean, this was, this is a, a major breakthrough.”

Commissioner Williams, the evening's acting chairman, said, "Here is my concern. If that much of the first phase that was done to show the flood plain – every – the whole north end of County – we don't have to milk the same cow again?”

Mr. Keith answered, “They’re actually gonna use the same type of matrix when they do the new ones."

Mr. Roberts added that the County would be kept in the loop about upcoming meetings.


After the meeting, Mr. Keith acknowledged that there was no notice for the WMD's appearance and said the WMD would come back "next month to answer the public's questions" if that was necessary.

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