CHOTEAU — At a late November City Council meeting for the City of Choteau, Mayor Chris Hindoien presented the Council and community with a letter from FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"The main problem we see from City of Choteau is that the floodway has expanded inside the city limits. As such, that threatens the economic stature of our community," he told MTN News.
These plans outline the areas of the City that lie in the floodway, 100 year floodplain, and 500 year floodplain. A residence or structure located in the floodway is almost guaranteed to purchase flood insurance on the building.
The City of Choteau and FEMA have been referring to a 1984 model of the FIRM Maps, where the floodway covers a small portion of the east side and Main Street.
The newly-drafted proposal, which if approved would be implemented in 2026, expands the number of structures in the 100 year flood plain to 377. The new additions to the floodway include 81 new homes, primarily east of Main Street.
"We knew this was coming. The DNRC has been very open with us about it, what caught us off guard was the new data. The potential damage it could do to the potential taxable value of our homes in our community and some of the business in our community," explained Hindoien. "Those that are inside the floodway will most definitely have to have flood insurance... Figure if it’s a $2,000 annual premium that’s another $200 on your mortgage."
The City of Choteau has until December 6, 2023 to issue a response to FEMA regarding its thoughts on the new boundaries. At the time of this article, Mayor Hindoien has postmarked the letter for arrival before the due date.
"When the federal government asks for a response, I am going to do that and give them what we think... I'm afraid that if we fail to respond during this time period, it could be viewed by FEMA and the entities above as tacit support for what they're doing and I don't want that."
Hindoien has reached out to Montana's Congressional delegation, attaching them to the letter. U.S Representative Matt Rosendale (R-MT) says he's been at this fight for a couple of years. According to Rep. Rosendale, states across the nation have faced similar issues with the National Flood Insurance Program working in a deficit.
"I believe that it's an effort by the National Flood Insurance Program to get more people involved, paying premiums into the National Flood Insurance Program because they have been running at a deficit for so long," expressed Rep. Rosendale.
He also agrees with U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) on the issue to utilize the Public Comment opportunities presented to residents in the designated areas. Congressman Rosendale urges residents and City Officials to work diligently to ensure each property owner is aware of dates for public comment and to opt out of potential mandatory flood insurance.
Here is a statement from Tester:
“Preventing flood damage starts with proper mitigation, which is why I worked hard to secure targeted resources for Montana in my bipartisan infrastructure law – but it’s also critically important that agencies like FEMA use the best possible science and engage with the public when drafting new flood maps. I encourage folks in Choteau and Teton County to continue taking advantage of FEMA’s public comment period to make sure the agency gets these maps done right.”
According to the City of Choteau for private property owners, to make the claim your property is graded higher than what FEMA is proposing. The homeowner must pay out of pocket, a private surveying company to provide an elevation certificate to present to federal agencies. The Mayor's concern is that once the map is approved at the federal level, those who have confirmed eligibility to opt out of insurance will not be updated on the map.
If you ask former Teton County Sheriff John L. Howard, a Choteau resident who lived through a major flood in 1964, the fix is simple.
"Get someone in here who knows what we go through here... let's go clean that plug out and open the original pathway for the water and do something to keep the water from raging up here." explained Howard. "Fix it, this is a real simple deal. By God, the government is going to play with it until we have a major problem that they've created."