By Deb Patterson
MILFORD — Elected officials and local planning staff are making sure there are no arbitrary lines and there are facts behind a proposed new floodway and floodplain for the area around Turkey Creek between Syracuse and as it leaves Kosciusko County west of Milford.
A group of government officials participated in a Zoom meeting last spring when a modeling for a new flood zone was presented by Star II, a subcontractor hired by FEMA. Local officials were stunned at the draft model and the number of enlarged areas since the last revision on Sept. 30, 2015.
The result was county officials made it known the contractor needed to gather more data and facts to substantiate enlarging the flood zone area (the floodplain and floodway) that has been in effect since 2015. The enlarged area proposed includes the former Syracuse Elementary, Polywood, homes from Turkey Creek south to near Boston Street in Syracuse and the area between Turkey Creek and Hammond Creek (also referred to as Baer Creek) in Milford.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Brad Jackson, county commissioner, who participated in a Zoom meeting along with officials from Syracuse and Milford town councils. “I’m fighting like crazy (to have it changed),” he said, noting he questioned the consulting agency, Star II, if they had taken into account the amount of water Syracuse Lake and Lake Wawasee holds after a rain event. “They didn’t calculate it. Steve Snyder calculated it for them.
“I’m fighting hard. I completely disagree with what they are coming up with. It’s a fight I’m engaged in fully,” stated Jackson.
Doug Ruch, current Milford Town Council president, agreed with Jackson, “We are fighting for the taxpayers and what is in their best interests and will continue to fight for the residents.” He noted the impact of the proposed area will be a big deal for those with mortgages and their homeowners policies as well as those who wish to remodel or add onto their homes.
“I have been in contact with Rep. Curt Nisly and Sen. Blake Doriot and they are concerned as well,” said Larry Siegel, Syracuse Town Council president. “We are pushing all the buttons we can. It (the draft) appears to be negligent and damaging and shouldn’t be allowed to happen.” Siegal noted the current flood zone map is overreach and local surveyors are busy already taking elevations for private property owners to be removed from the flood zone. “This is government overreach carried down more. It’s unacceptable.”
Matt Sandy, assistant planner and floodplain administrator for the county, noted the last maps were only five years old and said “nothing major has changed to my knowledge.”
He noted the current maps are in fact more accurate of the floodplain and floodway areas. Sandy noted a number of questions and concerns were addressed with the consultant including areas left off that should have been included. “The biggest area was from Turkey Creek water control device through Milford. Our concern was why.”
Sandy noted no answers could be given by the consultants to questions raised and they were asked to restudy the area. “We don’t feel correct information was considered of the lake. They knew it was there and we asked if they took that into consideration. They did not have all the data … sure not part of the model.” He added “we want them to restudy the area.”
Following the Zoom meeting, the consultant stated during the next 30 days they would take a new look at the comments made. Nothing has been heard from FEMA nor the consultant since. Sandy, who is making sure officials do not miss out on input, has been reaching out to the consultant, FEMA and officials with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Water on the status of the draft review. Nothing has moved forward. Officials with the division of water noted agreement with local officials the consultant needs to restudy the draft and lake data needed to be reviewed.
“At this point there is nothing new,” Sandy reported at the end of 2020.
Sandy stressed these maps are not to the point of being accepted and it would be 2023 before anything would happen. He noted there would be public hearings held for residents to review. Final action would need to be taken by town councils and county officials. Sandy pointed out local officials were told this would be two to three years out or in 2023.
A Little Background
Sandy explained for more than 20 years the National Flood Insurance program determined flood zone areas county by county. FEMA, who did the most recent risk map, changed its philosophy and is now looking at areas as a watershed group and working across the area at watersheds. The areas of Syracuse, Milford, and Leesburg (north of CR 400N) and a portion of Nappanee are in the southern portion of the St. Joseph Watershed. The majority of that watershed is in Michigan reaching up to Kalamazoo and the
Battle Creek area.
He noted fact finding meetings had been held with everything appearing typical with existing maps until the subcontractor Star II worked on a model. “We had not heard much up until last spring when draft maps were shown.” He noted the modeling showed a major difference in the floodplain – the areas more likely to be subject to flooding had widened out. The area of the floodway, the natural conduit for flood waters, was also changed.
Sandy explained should the maps stand, it would affect the regulatory aspect of those properties. If a property owner has a mortgage backed by the FDIC or were to refinance through an FDIC agency, the requirement to have flood insurance would kick in. It would also make a difference when a home is sold as the fact of the home being in the floodplain or floodway would have to be disclosed potentially affecting the market rate of the home.
It would affect property values and damage the tax base. Being in such a designated area would also affect any remodeling or addition to the home.
Farm land would not be affected in either designation unless structures were being added on the property, according to Sandy.