Redwood City knee-deep in levee quagmire

Redwood Shores has a predicament: federal emergency officials say a nearby levee is not high enough to protect the waterfront neighborhood from a major flood.

But the simple solution to that problem — making the levee taller — may be impossible because the levee is in front of San Carlos’ landing strip, which means building up the embankment could violate Federal Aviation Administration runway regulations.

Stuck in the middle are the Redwood City neighborhood’s 15,000 residents, who could be forced to buy flood insurance for their homes.

Last month, the Federal Emergency Management Agency issued a new flood-insurance map that placed about 50,000 residents in San Mateo, Foster City and Redwood City in “special flood-hazard zones” because theylive behind weak spots in the levees.

Unless the problems are fixed by spring 2010, residents with federally insured mortgages will be required to buy flood insurance, according to FEMA officials. At current rates, that could cost them between $348 and $2,523 a year, depending on when they buy the insurance, how long they have it and the age and condition of their home.

For residents like Pat Dixon, a disabled senior and a 23-year resident of Redwood Shores, that price tag will not be easy on her budget. Worse, she said, she feels that buying insurance is not likely to do her any good in the future.

“I’m not in a position where I would flood by any means,” she said. “[My complex] is 4 or 5 feet above the high-water mark of the lagoon, plus my unit is a couple of feet above that.”

The levee in question is immediately adjacent to the San Carlos Airport, which sits at the southeastern end of the Redwood Shores neighborhood.

However, it’s unclear exactly who controls the levee. Portions of the levee in that immediate area are owned by San Mateo County, Redwood City and San Carlos, said Walter Martone, a deputy director at the county’s Public Works Department.

Though the lowest part of the levee belongs to the county, its officials didn’t learn of the problem until last month because FEMA was mistakenly corresponding with San Carlos about it until then.

County Supervisor Rich Gordon said it’s a priority to try to resolve the problem in time to save residents from the mandate.

“The issue’s [solution] will take a high level of cooperation, a degree of patience and the finding of sufficient funds. And to that recipe you’ve got to add a pinch of good luck,” he said.

kworth@examiner.com

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