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Four things you should know about flood plains in the Gallatin Valley, Montana

The Gallatin Valley is rooted in its river systems.  Lewis and Clark came up the Missouri and traveled through this region.  The bounty of water in this area has allowed for settlement and growth.  Occasionally, these rivers and creeks flood.  As a result we have federally regulated floodplains throughout our valley.  To learn a bit more about resources and how this affects buyers and sellers in this area, I attended a Gallatin Association of Realtors seminar earlier this month on Flood Plains in the Gallatin Valley area.  Presenters included Brian Heaston, the Project Engineer for the City of Bozeman; Sean O’Callahan, the floodplain administrator for Gallatin County and Jennifer Buchanan from PayneWest Insurance.

Here are four things you should know about floodplains and flood insurance in the Gallatin Valley.

1. The regulatory floodplain differs from nature’s floodplain:  The regulatory floodplain is defined in FIRMs (Floodplain Insurance Rate Maps) which are a snapshot in time from when surveyors last studied the waterways.  FIRM maps may be accessed on the Gallatin County planning website on the county interactive mapping feature. Click HERE>>

2. Maps are not always correct: Many records are digitized versions of old maps.  A new map was published in 2011 but it was not new data – just digitized.  There are processes in place to allow for changes to the maps.  In Bozeman, consumers can contact Brian Heaston and ask for a FIRM determination to see if the property is ‘in’ or ‘out’ of the federal floodplain.  If it seems that this does not match reality, an appeal may be filed.  Required documents include an elevation certificate (performed by an engineer or land survey).  The lowest adjacent grade surrounding the living structure is taken into account.  If the appeal is accepted it gets an ‘Out As Shown Determination’. This determination runs with the land.  The West Fork of the Gallatin River is next to be remapped.  New maps may be out 2016-2018 depending on funding.

3. Flood insurance is becoming increasingly expensive due to the enactment of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act.  Due to the impact that this legislation is having on the consumer and its potential to stall many real estate markets, portions of the legislation will likely be delayed by congressional action.  The current bill that has already passed the Senate would halt premium hikes by retaining most flood insurance subsidies for four years to give FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) time to do an affordability study and guarantee that maps are accurate.  Here is an interesting article on CNBC about the debate.  Click HERE>>

4. Know Your Insurance Agent: When shopping for insurance on a property identified as in the flood plain on a FIRM map, it is imperative that you discuss your options with an insurance agent certified to sell and discuss flood insurance.  There are many different flood zones that are assigned on the FIRM maps with associated variations in cost.  There are both government and private insurance options available to consumers.  Flood insurance policies are no longer transferable and your agent needs to know what they are doing – find out who is certified in your area by visiting