Levee funds are still dry

San Mateo County does not have enough money to fix a levee that was deemed unsafe by the federal government, a county official said Tuesday, putting thousands of southern Peninsula residents much closer to the reality of paying high flood-insurance fees.

Approximately 1,000 feet of Redwood City-area levees were deemed unsafe in April. If the levees do not meet Federal Emergency Management Agency standards by spring 2010, residents with federally insured mortgages must buy flood insurance, and renters must deal with their landlords passing potential rent increases onto them. The insurance can cost between $348 and $2,523 annually. The rules would affect about 5,000 addresses in the Redwood City lagoon neighborhood of Redwood Shores, city spokesman Malcolm Smith said.

But after months of meetings, San Mateo County has asked FEMA to avoid raising the height of the levees. The levee portion under FEMA review is near a runway at the San Carlos Airport, which is operated by the Federal Aviation Administration but under county jurisdiction. The FAA said raising the levee to 1,000 feet would make the levees too high for the airport, making the permitting process difficult.

If FEMA allows the exemption, the county would only have to raise about 1,500 of the levee’s total 2,500 feet. The project could then be completed within 12 to 18 months, county Public Works Director Jim Porter said. If the exemption is denied, however, the county will be forced to spend multiple years fixing the entire levee, he said.

Regardless of FEMA’s decision, the county currently does not have any money with which to spend on the improvements, which will cost $6 million to $12 million depending on how much of the levee is fixed, Porter said.

Porter said FEMA’s decision and how quickly it could collect money for the project would determine whether the fixes would be done by spring 2010.

FEMA spokeswoman Kelly Hudson said it could not comment on the request because it had not been received as of Tuesday. The organization typically responds within a week to such inquiries, she said.

“The requirements are pretty fixed,” Hudson said.

FEMA earlier this year ruled the surrounding area of San Carlos Airport, which is actually located in Redwood Shores, is bound to flood on average once per century. FEMA requires the total levee to be about 12½ feet tall, but the levee currently ranges from about 10 to 12 feet in height, Porter said.

Redwood Shores residents said they were mailed a letter saying their properties were being reevaluated for flood insurance purposes a few months ago.

Redwood City and San Mateo are also working to fix levies that FEMA deemed unsafe.

mrosenberg@sfexaminer.com

San Carlos Airport levee at risk

FEMA has required changes at the troubled levee.

$6 million-$12 million: Cost to raise levee

2,500 feet: Total length of levee

1,500 feet: Length of levee not including runway area

12-18 months: Time needed to raise non-runway portion of levee

Spring 2010: Deadline to avoid flood insurance charges

$348-$2,523: Annual flood insurance cost

5,000: Addresses possibly subject to flood insurance

10.1-12 feet: Current height of levee

12.5 feet: FEMA-required height

*Source: San Mateo County, city of Redwood City

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