Duluth-area residents urged to review revised floodplain maps

The updated maps could have insurance cost implications and affect future land development.

A blue sedan is swallowed by sinkhole in asphalt street; people are taking photos of scene
A car from Seattle is shown in a sinkhole on Skyline Parkway at Ninth Avenue East in Duluth on June 22, 2012. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has drawn new flood insurance rate maps for St. Louis County and other areas of the U.S.
Bob King / File / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — Anyone who experienced the devastating 2012 flood that caused widespread property damage throughout the region understands the importance of being prepared for unthinkable events.

But when assessing flood risks, local authorities, developers and insurers often have had to rely on maps dating back to 1981-1992. That's about to change.

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials have drawn new flood insurance rate maps for St. Louis County and other parts of the nation. Residents will have an opportunity to view and discuss those proposed floodplain maps and the accompanying risk assessments at a public meeting from 5-7 p.m. Thursday at the St. Louis County Public Works Department, 4787 Midway Road, in the Pike Lake Conference Room.

When asked about the need for revised floodplain maps, FEMA spokesperson Cassie Kohn, who is stationed at the agency's Region 5 offices in Chicago, said: "Flood hazards change over time. Updated flood maps provide a more accurate picture of a property's flood risk. How water flows and drains can change due to new construction and community development or natural forces such as changing weather patterns or terrain changes.

"Also, communities may build levees and dams, decreasing flood risk over time. To better reflect your current flood risk, the National Flood Insurance Program and FEMA use the latest technology and data to update flood maps nationwide," she said.


So, why should residents care about a new series of floodplain maps?

Your assessed flood risk could mean the difference between whether or not a lender can require you to purchase flood insurance and how much you can expect to pay for that coverage. It could also affect the value of your property.

2012 Duluth flood Vermilion Road
Sightseers visit and take pictures of a section of Vermillion Road that was destroyed by floods in Duluth in June 2012.
File / Duluth News Tribune

FEMA does not rely on one-time events, such as the 2012 flood, to shape its maps but rather looks to assess long-term trends.

Kohn spoke to the value of consulting the new maps: "The first step to reduce flood risk is to know your flood risk. Updates to flood maps give reliable, accessible information about a property’s flood risk so people can make informed decisions about where to live, what to build, and how to protect their families, homes and businesses."

To access the preliminary floodplain map, visit The webpage allows users to locate properties from an aerial view and see what floodplain designation has been assigned to them. The webpage also includes an explanation of what the different designations mean.

FEMA wil accept public comment on the proposed maps for 90 days before considering that feedback and issuing finalized versions of the maps.

Areas at high risk of flooding generally are labeled A or V, while those at moderate risk are classified as B, C and X. FEMA said the maps can provide a useful guide, but its site also notes that one in every three insurance claims related to flood damage come from properties located in areas considered to be at low to moderate risk flooding. The takeaway: Flooding can occur just about anywhere.

Kohn urged local property owners to get informed: "The new maps reflect the best available flood risk data in this county. While certain areas may now be shown as having an increased or reduced flood risk, it’s important for each property owner to review this information and understand what it means for their property going forward. 


"Some buildings may be included in the high-risk area, or Special Flood Hazard Area, for the first time," the FEMA spokesperson said. "If a home is identified on the new map as being in a high-flood risk area, individuals may be required to have flood insurance if they have a government-backed mortgage. However, some buildings may be removed from the SFHA. If a building is outside the high-risk area on the new map, flood insurance is no longer federally required but coverage is still available and recommended," Kohn said.

Learn more about flood insurance requirements and options at .

This story was updated at 12:35 p.m. Feb. 15 to include the name of FEMA spokesperson Cassie Kohn. It was originally posted at 10:18 a.m. Feb. 15.

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Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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