Who pays when the levee breaks?

San Mateo’s faulty levees could soak Foster City — and the wallets of its residents.

The levees of Foster City’s bayside neighbor are in bad shape, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency, and are in need of some $32.5 million in repairs.

Foster City’s own levees meet all federal standards, Mayor Pam Frisella said, but since the two cities are immediately adjacent to one another, FEMA is deciding whether water flooding over San Mateo’s walls could put Foster City at risk.

If FEMA decides this is a risk, thousands of Foster City residents who have federally insured mortgages could be required to purchase flood insurance, said Kathleen Schaefer, an engineer with FEMA. That extra insurance can cost $300 to $1,800 a year.

The federal agency is currently considering all potential flood zones as part of its nationwide five-year effort to update its flood-hazard maps. The new map may designate some or all of Foster City as high-risk for a flood, Frisella said. The Foster City Public Works Department has been in close contact with FEMA and San Mateo in the last few months to discuss what can be done to protect Foster City from the flood-hazard designation.

“It’s crummy, because we’ve worked so hard to keep our levees up to speed, and then to have San Mateo’s [levees] affect us, that’s frustrating,” Frisella said.

Unlike Foster City, San Mateo already has several flood-hazard zones, and city officials are anticipating that those will be expanded when the new FEMA map is released.

The reason San Mateo’s faulty levees have never affected Foster City before is because previously, flood hazards were analyzed city by city, and FEMA didn’tconsider how one city’s flooding problems could impact another city, Schaefer said.

Schaefer would not confirm which parts of Foster City — if any — will be labeled flood-hazard zones, since the agency hasn’t made a final decision yet. Once the map is released in April, however, residents and officials will have about a year to provide feedback, or, if necessary, buy flood insurance.

Susanna Chan, San Mateo’s deputy director for Public Works, said San Mateo is doing what it can to work on its levee problems — especially those that affect large areas and would be relatively cheap to fix.

Frisella said Foster City, FEMA and San Mateo officials will meet in the next few weeks to discuss what can be done to protect Foster City from the flood hazard designation.

kworth@examiner.com

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