New flood maps will require Syracuse's struggling neighorhoods to buy flood insurance

Sep 15, 2016

New Federal Emergency Management Agency floodplain maps for Onondaga County will go into effect November 4. Protesters on Syracuse’s south side are upset that some of the poorest homeowners in the city will be required to buy flood insurance.

Joanne Stevens was one of about 15 protesters that entered the Southwest Community Center at a recent informational meeting on the floodplain maps hosted by FEMA.

“We can’t afford to pay this insurance, so we must stick together and we must fight,” Stevens said.

Some residents in the surrounding area are now going to have to get flood insurance while properties in the more affluent neighborhood of Meadowbrook were taken off the maps.  

Rich Puchalski of Syracuse United Neighbors said he would rather see the government spend money to prevent flooding then on things such as the Onondaga Creek Walk.

“The well-to-do got off the list,” Puchalski said. “Maybe there could have been an effort to dredge Onondaga Creek. I don't know what the solution is. But I think the purpose is to bring the neighbors together and to say something has got to be done to prevent the problem of having to pay up to $2,500 in insurance.”

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner said she sympathizes with affected residents but said dredging could cost millions of dollars.

“If the federal government were able to come in and give us $5 to $10 to $30 million, then we could implement some of those other solutions," Miner said. "But all of the solutions that we as a city could afford to do and working with state of New York, we have done.”

FEMA branch chief Andrew Martin said he has done more than 100 of these informational meetings and he has not seen a protest like this.

“I thought a lot of the points residents brought up were valid," Martin said. "They’re looking for answers on some really hard questions.”

Martin said if affected homeowners do not purchase flood insurance, the mortgage holder will decide which policy they get.

"We would prefer for them to go out and talk to insurance agents on their own, to make sure they get the policy that is right for them as opposed to letting the bank choose it for them," Martin said.

This comes after years of effort from local and federal elected officials to try and reduce the number of new properties on the flood maps in Syracuse. More than 200 properties were taken off the map in Syracuse but more than 700 were added. Overall, more properties throughout Onondaga County were removed rather than added to the flood maps.