Property Owners living near the Erie Canal > Flood Insurance Conversations

FEMA rules do not require Erie Canal Neighbors to purchase mandatory Flood Insurance


Doug K:
This ECNA moderator had an interesting conversation recently with the New York State’s FEMA Risk Mitigation representative regarding the Erie Canal Embankment Integrity program. The main topic was of course Flood Insurance requirements, which has been a topic many are interested in in this Forum. Seems many have a Love-Hate relationship with clearing Embankment Dams in upstate NY these days, love to see the change to safer dams but hate to think it might lead to a need for mandatory flood insurance for those living below them.

I am happy to report that what I heard was all good news for Erie Canal Neighbors.

FEMA will not be changing any Flood Zone Maps as a result of the current work being done on Erie dams… period… end of discussion.
The reasons cited were many but the main two that stuck were on FEMA policy, and also the unique design features of the Erie Canal. I’ll give a summary of each so everyone understands the concepts.

FEMA Policy on Embankment Dams
FEMA does not currently issue flood zones or require National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) for any property owners living below Embankment Dams. They do not really have any jurisdiction to do so either. Most of the work done around Dams of any type is on a Local or State level, and states can write their own rules when it comes to these flood control structures. Once again the idea around safety of citizens is founded on a bottom up approach to rules, regulations and laws, Local government is the primary source of rules, and then to State if needed and if the Federal level is reached it is more about safety funding then making safety rules. If States comply with Federal Guidelines they get more “support” funding for their activities around Dam Safety. He also stated that while the Embankments do qualify as Dams, under new Dam Safety Program laws, it is still up to the State to adopt those guidelines locally.

States normally rely on their local Dept. Of Environmental Conservation (like NYDEC) to decide what the rules will be regarding Dams and each state’s Dam Registry. Some states in our country do not even have a State Dam Registry, like Alabama. NY Rules are being reviewed at the current time, but will have no affect on surrounding FEMA Flood Mapping.

Erie Canal Design & FEMA Flood Ratings
The inside of the Erie Canal has a FEMA Flood Zone Rating  of A1, which means it has a less than 1% chance of flooding. The surrounding areas of the canal normally have a FEMA Flood Zones rating of X, which is slight to moderate flood potential, and a Zone X does NOT require mandatory flood insurance through NFIP. The FEMA expert explained that the Erie Canal has many spillways located along it’s path that insure the embankments will never have water flowing over the top of the dam, which could cause a major breach issue. By design our Erie Canal keeps it’s neighbors safe from flooding in most sections of the canal. The exceptions are for those sections of the canal that use existing rivers or lakes for navigation, often referred to as “canalized” rivers… like the Mohawk River & Oneida Lake.

Bottom line… whether they clear these Embankments or leave them unsafe and full of large vegetation there will never be a need for neighbors of the Erie to get flood insurance  PUSHED on them from FEMA.

Of course the other issue being addressed by the NY Canal Corporation dam safety program is not about safety, it is solely about avoidance of possible litigation in the event a breach & flood does occur. That is all about keeping NY State from paying out billions of dollars in lawsuit claims should a flood ever happen, something we all should be concerned about. That litigation could end up bankrupting the state and also placing a burden on Taxpayers to cover the losses for their fellow New Yorker's affected by an Erie Canal Flood.

Hope this helps everyone understand the topic, this Forum Board will most likely be left for reference, the Flood Insurance discussion is over.

Michael Caswell:
Very interesting and explained well. Thanks.

What did strike me was that nowhere in this conversation did it mention a breach caused by such things as tree blow-downs, piping, embankment slumps etc.
Surely the risk of flood is still extremely high with  an inability to inspect, and the huge risk of flood caused by piping etc?
No amount of spillways etc. will make any difference because the water will not 'overtop' the crest in these situations. So the risks are still there.

Doug K:
FEMA rules are what was shared, New York State rules are what really matter for Safety & Prevention of flooding. FEMA is about a monetary protection for areas that are more prone to flooding, and it's directed to insure homes with mortgages are covered in those more prone areas.

If there was an Erie Canal flood event, caused by a blowdown, breach or earthquake,  most people affected would certainly not have flood insurance, and therefor no insurance coverage for their loss...that's pretty standard. If you think about it, fighting Canal Corporation efforts to correct issues with unsafe embankment dams on their OWN property, is just asking for trouble. Anyone responsible for that stoppage could be liable under the law, for restitution to flood's called Constructive Notice.

Right now those rules are being "reexamined" as a direct result of this Erie Canal work. Notice how the conversations are increasing between  NY Power Authority, NY Canal Corp,  and NY Dept of Conservation? It's not by accident, NYPA is saying "we have unsafe property", NY Canal is working to fix it, uncovering many dams in the process, and NYDEC is working along side to insure compliance. It will not be long before they figure oput these all need to be added to the NY State Dam Registry, which will result in mandatory 10 year inspections, above and below water, by the DEC.

NY Canal Corporation is now allowed to tell the truth, with NYPA at the helm. They have come clean on their past lapse of maintenance, and NYPA is insuring these dams do comply with Federal standards. There's only one reason for that.. protection of Erie Canal Neighbors living below these unsafe dams, and to avoid any potential litigation in the event a flood event does happen.

Constructive Notice... go look it up....

Brighton, Pittsford, Perinton Town Officials... a Wayne Count Court Judge... the STCC, all of them were told about the bad, unsafe condition of the Erie Canal, just like the rest of the counties that the Embankment Project touched. We all hope a flood doesn't happen, but if one does in eastern Monroe County I am sure fingers will be pointed where some never planned.

Constructive Notice... moves the responsibility where it belongs.


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