The FBI is reportedly investigating whether employees at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) made ‘unusual’ changes to flood maps so as to remove certain properties from high-risk flood zones, thus saving the owners of those properties thousands of dollars per year or more on flood insurance.
According to an NBC News report, the investigation into the changes in the maps follows an earlier report by the network documenting more than 500 instances in which FEMA remapped waterfront properties, saving the owners as much as 97% on the premiums they pay into the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
In some cases, map lines were moved so that oceanfront condo buildings and million-dollar homes no longer fell within high-risk flood zones.
According to the report, FBI agents have conducted interviews with FEMA employees, as well as ‘others outside the government,’ including contractors working for the agency.
The report notes that the map changes were made to numerous coastal areas – from the Gulf of Alaska to Bar Harbor, Maine. ‘One hotspot of map changes was on Alabama's Gulf Coast, in the twin resort towns of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, where 70 coastal buildings have benefited, costing the flood insurance program at least $5 million a year in premiums,’ NBC News' Bill Dedman writes.
FEMA routinely updates its flood maps to account for changes in sea level and inland wetlands. It will be interesting to see whether the FBI investigation uncovers any collusion between the contractors who gather field data used to set the map lines and the property owners – or if there was something going on internally at FEMA.
For more, check out the NBC News report.