These Hernando Beach homes are raised to a safe level to meet FEMA and county requirements, but if new Flood Insurance Rate Maps are adopted, they could be even safer, possibly resulting in lower flood insurance rates.

SPRING HILL  There’s good news for Hernando County residents who live in flood zones. An open house Feb. 6 revealed that proposed new Flood Insurance Rate Maps, and nearly every existing base flood elevation level in Hernando has been lowered on the new maps.

The FIRM maps and the revised BFEs likely won’t be adopted or used for calculating flood insurance rates for a year or more, but if adopted as proposed, those carrying flood insurance can expect a rate drop.

Danon Lucas, a public affairs specialist with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said how much is a matter for insurance agents to calculate when policies are written, he said.

A look at the revised FIRM, which would replace maps adopted in 2012, lower BFEs, or the level at which homes would be safe from a worse-case flooding scenario, by between 1 and 3 feet in most flood zones in the county. Depending on location, in some cases the lowering could reclassify homes in V zones, or the most vulnerable flood zones, to a less risky A zone, said Lucas. It also means that elevated homes in flood zones that are below the current BFE may be above the new BFE. Even if a home isn’t reclassified, it appears virtually every homeowner in flood zones will see their risk of flooding as assessed by FEMA go down, said Christopher Linsbeck, Hernando County Zoning Administration supervising official.

“This is a big change on elevation out there,” said Linsbeck. “By default, they’ll (homeowners) get up to 3 or 4 feet more freeboard.”

Linsbeck couldn’t speak to what that mean in savings on flood policies, but said rates are “bound to go down.” Lucas concurred.

“They should,” said Lucas, as rates are tied to risk and the BSE is used to calculate risk. All homes would be safer from flooding under the new calculation, he said, though other factors go into calculating rates and only an agent can quote rates.

The BFE changes also would mean Hernando officials would modify zoning regulations and elevation requirements for building new homes, said Linsbeck. Current rules for building in a VE16 zone, for example, mean a home must be elevated 16 feet plus 1 for a total of 17 feet. Some current VE16 areas have been changed to VE14 or 13, meaning a new home could be built 2 to 3 feet lower once new county regulations are adopted.

Pablo Barroso is a resident of Hernando Beach and a home builder there. His home is elevated about 10 feet above ground level on pilings, but even so he pays a premium for flood insurance. He recently got word of the possible changes.

“It’s good news; it sounds promising,” he said of the potential FIRM changes.

He wasn’t certain, but said he thinks the BFE where his house sits would be 3 feet lower on the new maps. If the changes are adopted, he said it also will mean the cost of the homes he builds in Hernando Beach could go down. Homes that have to be elevated on stilts under current rules might only require a sand-filled stem wall to raise them, he said.

“That’s a big plus because pilings are a big cost,” Barroso said.

The next step toward adoption of the new FIRMs is a 90-day appeal and comment period, in which residents are permitted to comment and submit data that challenges the proposed BFE changes. It then goes into a six-month adoption period to give counties time to update their floodplain regulations and to adopt the new maps. Lucas said it could be more than a year before the new maps are adopted.

Linsbeck said that since the new BFEs favor residents, he “can’t imagine that anyone would challenge” them during the appeal portion of the process. That could speed up adoption, though he believes it likely will be after renewals for the 2020 insurance year before new, lower flood insurance rates would go into effect.