Lawmakers lobby FEMA to change flood zone maps

Dorothy Holiday says her Lydell Street home has never flooded but because she's in a flood zone she is forced to pay thousands of dollars a year for insurance.

"The mortgage company requires me to pay it," said Dorothy Holiday. "Last year, 2011 it was $2,012. It's hard to fork over that cash."

Soon some of her neighbors in the south and west sides of Syracuse, home to many low-income properties, may have to do the same. Placing a big financial burden on families who can least afford it.

The new flood zone maps, recently released by FEMA, include more than 1,000 properties along Onondaga Creek in the City of Syracuse.

Those neighbors now have the attention of some powerful allies. Friday, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner toured the creek walk in Downtown Syracuse.

"If they do need insurance we need to find an affordable way to get that for them," said U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. "But we also need to make sure this is fair and when homes aren't at risk, through mitigation and through certain changes we want to make sure they donâ??t have to pay that extra money."

Friday, lawmakers were talking solutions to reduce the risk of flooding hoping FEMA will remove some homes from the new proposed flood zone. FEMA put out a similar map two years ago and Syracuse was able to convince the agency to drop 109 properties from the flood plain. City Engineer Glen Mihal told our Jim Kenyon, the city will try to find areas along the creek where FEMA misjudged the contours of the land and the capacity of Onondaga Creek. Just a couple of inches in elevation could eliminate hundreds of homes by shrinking the flood plain.

Officials are also considering removing some old railroad bridges along the creek to allow water to flow easier. And long term, the Mayor says the city could remove sediment from the bottom of the creek.

"I think there are a lot of solutions that can mitigate if not eliminate the risk," said Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner. "Make sure there is fairness and equity ultimately."

Lawmakers say they are hopeful they can convince FEMA to make some changes.