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Stilt homes like this one in Hernando Beach were built to ensure the home’s floor is above the base flood elevation level determined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Floor Insurance Rate Maps. New maps that have been released for public review are mostly lowering the flood elevation threat along the county’s coast, which means residents may pay less for flood insurance in 2021.

SPRING HILL — When it comes to things like federal regulations and insurance rates, “new” is usually bad news.

That may not be the case for many Hernando County residents in flood zones, however, as preliminary coastal Flood Insurance Rate Maps are out and many homeowners are expected to benefit from changes.

While it won’t be the case for everyone in a flood zone, most of the adjustments to the FIRMs, which are labeled preliminary until they are officially adopted next year, lower the base flood elevations for the county’s coastal regions. Many zones on the new FIRMs show hazard lines 1 to 3 feet lower than levels on the current maps, and that could mean lower flood insurance rates.

If there are insurance savings to be had, residents won’t see them until next fall, as rates this season for the 2020 insurance year will be based on the current maps.

To get a look at proposed map changes for the 2021 insurance year, residents must visit the Hernando County Zoning Department, at 789 Providence Blvd., Brooksville, or request an electronic copy of the maps by calling 352-754-4050 or emailing ZoningDepartment@HenandoCounty.us.

The new flood maps are a project of Hernando in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which used new modeling data that shows coastal flood hazards more accurately than reflected in the current FIRMs.

Hernando is now entering a 90-day period ending Jan. 15 in which residents will have the opportunity to challenge the findings of FEMA and changes to the flood elevation levels if they believe it negatively impacts them. To appeal the new maps, residents must submit scientific or technical data to back their arguments.

Christopher Linsbeck, Hernando County Zoning Administration supervising official, said earlier this year it looked like virtually every homeowner in flood zones will see their risk of flooding, as assessed by FEMA, go down, and he wasn’t expecting many challenges from residents.

“This is a big change on elevation out there,” said Linsbeck when FEMA completed its survey in February. He said it appears many will gain “freeboard” over the current FIRMs, meaning lower flood insurance rates.

If there are savings, the homeowner’s insurance agent will calculate them at the time of renewal or purchase using the new FEMA data, said Linsbeck.

FEMA’s maps are important not only for insurance rates but also new construction. In some cases, it’s possible homes that might previously have been required to be built on tall pilings may be permitted on lots raised with fill dirt, lowering construction costs and the time to build.