Brown County Commissioners have approved up to $30,000 for a study that will provide the county with specific data it can use to argue against a FEMA flood plain level local officials believe will be set too high.

“The county would be doing a disservice to its citizens if we do nothing,” Brown County Judge Ray West said at Monday’s commissioners court meeting, where the approval was granted. “This will be the best $20,000 to $30,000 we could spend. We’ve got to have a good flood plain elevation.”

Halff Associates of Austin is in the first year of what is expected to be a three-year process under a FEMA contract to examine existing studies, digitize the information and develop a flood plain level that will be used to set flood insurance premiums. Preliminary reports indicate that the level around Lake Brownwood coming out of the project will be 1,441.9 feet above sea level, almost seven feet above the easement held by the Brown County Water Improvement District No. 1 for flood water. That easement is 10 feet above the lake’s spillway level of 1,425. The highest the lake has been in its 78-year history is about seven feet above spillway.

The contract is with Morrison Hydrology, the same firm with whom the water district last week approved $15,000 for a related study. The City of Brownwood is also considering working with Morrison, officials have said.

“I think the cooperation between the county, the city and the water district is part of the reason the cost of this is not going to be so great,” West told commissioners.

He said a perception held by many residents is that if the county and city don’t agree with the FEMA findings, a higher flood plain level would not go into effect.

“FEMA has said they are going to rely on the best available information, and if that shows 1,442, that’s what it’s going to be,” West told commissioners. That means the county must provide new information that might lead FEMA to a lower level.

The study authorized would be strictly for the county, West said. The vote in favor was unanimous; Pct. 3 Commissioner Richard Gist was not present.

Ron Morrison has reviewed the data gathered by Halff, which holds a contract with FEMA as part of a national remapping project.

“The best available data is what Halff is using, because FEMA said it doesn’t have the money for a new study,” West said. “Mr. Morrison has commented that he did not believe 1,442 is correct, and he’s not sure that 1,435 isn’t too high.”

West said Morrison has indicated that $30,000 “should be ample” to do the job, and that the actual cost - which will be billed in hours - could be closer to $20,000. The study is expected to be finished in 90 days.

“He’ll beat FEMA to the punch,” West said.

The county can then use Morrison’s study to supplement the data gathered by Halff to argue against the higher flood plain elevation. A key piece of the data used by Halff to establish the 1441.9 level is a 1979 report for the water district that was part of a dam improvement project. Local officials said the findings of that study are not pertinent to setting a flood plain level, because its purpose was different.