Oregon Delegation Fights to Protect Economic Development in Oregon Communities
Today, members of Oregon’s congressional delegation sent a letter to the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Craig Fugate, strongly urging the agency to work closely with Oregon communities on FEMA’s plan to implement changes to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). These new NFIP requirements could severely impact—and in some cases prohibit— economic and residential development on private property due to the potential of adverse impacts to threatened or endangered species and their habitat. Led by Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR), the letter was co-signed by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley, and Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Kurt Schrader (D-OR) and Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR).
“In Oregon, 271 communities depend on the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to provide flood insurance. The many waterways that contribute to Oregon’s natural beauty and robust economy also make our state prone to flooding. Given the reach and importance of the NFIP in Oregon, it is essential that it is administered with the utmost transparency and clarity,” the members write. They go on to add, “With some of the strongest land use laws in the country, Oregonians deserve a collaborative process with FEMA on NFIP RPA implementation— one that addresses protection of salmon and steelhead habitat, but is also economically and socially feasible.”
In 2009, FEMA was sued in U.S. District Court in Oregon for failing to ensure that the NFIP complies with the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The action resulted in a settlement agreement which required FEMA to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) on a Biological Opinion under ESA and propose changes to the program through Reasonable and Prudent Alternatives (RPA), or alternative actions needed to avoid jeopardizing an endangered species or adversely modifying critical habitat. FEMA administers the National Flood Insurance Program and NMFS consults on the Endangered Species Act.
The final draft of the RPA calls for drastic changes to the NFIP which would have an unprecedented impact on economic growth, job creation, opportunities for affordable housing and development in communities across the State of Oregon.
The members sent the letter to Administrator Fugate in response to a letter FEMA recently sent to Oregon communities stating that NFIP communities need to either stop all development in areas at risk of flooding once every 100 years (which includes hundreds of miles of Eugene, Springfield, the Oregon coast, and Portland), or implement yet-to-be-developed interim measures to mitigate potential impacts to species and habitat. FEMA goes on to threaten that communities that do not comply with their instructions will face enforcement actions.
The letter points out that this RPA forces FEMA to use the NFIP to regulate land use, which is beyond FEMA’s legal authority related to floodplain management. DeFazio, together with the Oregon delegation, request that FEMA issue clear guidelines and timelines to ensure that Oregon communities are not subject to restrictive federal mandates that negatively impact economic growth. They urge FEMA to work closely with Oregon’s NFIP communities and state partners to establish mitigation and compliance measures that are not overly burdensome and do not exceed FEMA’s legal authority.
Specifically, the changes to the NFIP include severe restrictions and in some cases absolute prohibition of future development in floodplains and riparian buffer zones, and changes to regulatory definitions that would substantially increase floodways and Special Flood Hazard Areas. The changes also include moving land use regulation from local authority to federal authority under FEMA and the issuance of new maps for all Oregon communities by 2022 that take into account future shifting rainfall and snowfall patterns due to climate change and future unknown land use changes based on increasing population growth.
Over the last two and a half years, Congressman DeFazio engaged FEMA and NMFS, as well as the Council for Environmental Quality at the White House, to express his concerns with a process that obstructs the input of the impacted communities, oversteps FEMA’s statutory authority and applies a draconian one-size-fits-all approach to a state that already has strong land-use policies that, together with federal laws, work to protect endangered species.
To read additional background information, click here.
A full copy of the letter can be found below.
June 28, 2016
W. Craig Fugate
Federal Emergency Management Agency
500 C Street S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20472
Dear Administrator Fugate:
In Oregon, 271 communities depend on the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to provide flood insurance. The many waterways that contribute to Oregon’s natural beauty and robust economy also make our state prone to flooding. Given the reach and importance of the NFIP in Oregon, it is essential that it is administered with the utmost transparency and clarity. We are deeply concerned about recent steps FEMA has taken to implement the Reasonable and Prudent Alternative (RPA) in the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Biological Opinion on changes to NFIP.
On June 13, 2016 FEMA Region X sent letters to National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) communities in Oregon addressing changes to Oregon’s NFIP structure that would be occurring over the next four and half years. Although we understand this letter may have served to fulfill a requirement to provide notice of NMFS April 14, 2016 Biological Opinion and Reasonable and Prudent Alternative (RPA), the letter was confusing and alarming to many who received it.
We understand that FEMA is responding to NMFS’s Biological Opinion and RPA, which assumes FEMA will exceed its congressionally authorized authorities by requiring communities to prohibit private development in order to participate in the NFIP. This is all the more reason for FEMA to work closely with Oregon’s NFIP communities and state partners to establish mitigation and compliance measures that are not overly burdensome and do not exceed FEMA’s legal authority.
The letter explains that there are two stages of implementation— interim measures over the next two years and permanent program changes to the NFIP. It also suggests that NFIP communities have the following options: “voluntarily impose a temporary moratorium on all floodplain development that adversely impacts ESA listed species or their habitat, or voluntarily implement the interim measures found in RPA element 2.” Voluntarily imposing a temporary moratorium on all floodplain development that could adversely impact Endangered Species Act (ESA) listed species or their habitat is not an option for Oregon NFIP communities. Communities cannot be expected to implement these or any other measures without thorough guidance and consultation with FEMA.
The letter is particularly disappointing because it threatens enforcement action against communities but does not offer a timeline for when that reporting requirement is expected to take effect or guidance on how communities can fulfill reporting requirements. Requirements to mitigate potential impacts to species and habitat, per the RPA, will be necessary, but responsibility for providing acceptable mitigation options falls to FEMA. FEMA needs to provide clear guidelines on how and when communities must comply with revised NFIP requirements.
Oregon is one of the first states affected by significant changes to the NFIP based on ESA, Section 7 consultations, but NFIP communities across the nation will also be subject to program changes in the future. Because Oregon is at the forefront of nationwide NFIP changes, it is in the best interest of FEMA to get implementation in the state right. Therefore, we suggest that FEMA increase staffing resources in Oregon throughout the implementation process in order to better communicate with every NFIP community in the state. We also ask that community input and concerns be considered and responded to at every step of the implementation process.
With some of the strongest land use laws in the country, Oregonians deserve a collaborative process with FEMA on NFIP RPA implementation— one that addresses protection of salmon and steelhead habitat, but is also economically and socially feasible. Thank you for your attention to our concerns and taking leadership on establishing a clear, transparent, and collaborative process. We look forward to a response to this letter that includes an update on how FEMA plans to increase staffing resources, communicate more clearly, and seriously consider community input throughout this process.
PETER DeFAZIO RON WYDEN
Member of Congress United States Senator
JEFF MERKLEY EARL BLUMENAUER
United States Senator Member of Congress
KURT SCHRADER SUZANNE BONAMICI
Member of Congress Member of Congress