An anxious crowd of about 30 people greeted Brown County Commissioners for their regular session meeting Monday.
They were there specifically to hear a report from Wes Birdwell, an engineer, and the water resources planning director for Halff Associates Inc., the firm hired by FEMA to draft flood plain maps for Brown County. Indications are, the preliminary maps that are scheduled for release in October will establish a new, higher flood plain in Brown County, to 1440.1, approximately 6 feet above the present level.
Birdwell said in his report that FEMA did not have the time or money to have a new study done, and the numbers and elevations for the new map would be pulled from the “best available information” — a 1979 study of the dam done by Freese and Nichols and a report done in the 1990s by the Corps of Engineers. Both studies used water levels of the September, 1900, flood, the worst in the history of the county and which occurred before Lake Brownwood was built.
In a PowerPoint presentation, Birdwell said he would attempt to address three questions. “What are we doing? What have we found? And, what happens next?”
Numerous lake systems in the nation, and specifically Texas, are having new maps made, and most are falling under the criteria of a higher flood plain. Buchanan, Inks, Starcke and Mansfield are among them, Birdwell said.
If new studies are warranted, he said, it won’t be FEMA that will request or pay for them.
“The information FEMA lets us use is the engineering studies that FEMA has approved,” Birdwell said.
“FEMA’s not giving us the time or money to make a new study,” Birdwell said.
“And they’re not giving us the consideration, by the fact that the water’s never been as high as 1440 and they’ve never, ever, paid a claim for anything above the present flood level,” countered County Judge Ray West.
After the preliminary maps are produced, there is an appeals process, Birdwell said, during which “everything will stop” if governing entities have a study conducted. It could be two years before the finalized maps are in effect.
Birdwell is scheduled to attend the Brownwood City Council meeting this morning, and probably deliver the same presentation.
“Everything being what it is,” he said, “it is what it is and that is where we are.”