Time running out to dispute flood zone map changes

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Time is running out for Pinellas County homeowners to appeal changes to FEMA's flood insurance rate maps, which will be finalized at the end of July.

Residents had the opportunity to ask in-person questions during an information session in Oldsmar Tuesday.

"This has been a long process. They have done a lot of research and a lot of studies and the technology is also a lot better now," said Lisa Foster, the Pinellas County Floodplain Administrator. "Look up your flood risk. Find out if it's changing. Talk to your insurance agent to make sure you lock in your lowest rate. And make sure that you're prepared for a flooding event."

FEMA began the process in 2012, leading to newly updated maps for the first time in 16 years.

Foster said homeowners who learn their flood risk is increasing should make sure they purchase insurance now to lock in a lower rate; rates can only increase up to 18% a year.

Homeowners now in high-risk zones for the first time who do not already have insurance will have to buy in at a much higher rate.

Homeowners who want to challenge FEMA's findings must file an appeal by July 31 and include an engineer's analysis that dispute's the agency's research.

"My concerns are that I will be in a flood zone now and I haven't been for 28 years," said Jim Elmer, who might have to file and appeal. "My neighbors across the street and either side of me are not in a flood zone, but I am."

Others learned some encouraging news.

"My insurance will go from about 1,200 to about 350," said Jessica Wish, whose home was in a high-risk area and has been re-classified into a low-risk zone. "I am so excited. You have no idea how excited I am."

Foster is urging homeowners to check their flood zones if they haven't already done so by visiting the county's website here http://www.pinellascounty.org/flooding.