Ken Kalthoff, NBCDFW.com
Some of the most valuable real estate in Dallas is protected from flooding by the Trinity River levees in Dallas, but city leaders have learned that delays in repairs may increase the chance that all of that property will need expensive flood insurance.
Dallas is racing to avoid expensive flood insurance requirements for Trinity River property owners.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is demanding new soil testing before it determines what repairs it will require to recertify the levees.
The Corps decertified the Trinity levees last year under more stringent rules developed after floodwaters breached the levees of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.
The Dallas levees protect a vast area of the city, including valuable commercial properties and many homes.
The City Council learned Wednesday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will release revised flood maps in December 2011. If the levees are not recertified before then, the number of Dallas properties that fall within the Trinity River flood zone would be greatly expanded.
"If they have a federally backed mortgage, they will have to carry federal flood insurance," Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan said. "No new building permits can be issued by the city unless the building is on stilts or on fill."
Flood insurance could be very expensive.
For instance, former Dallas Councilman Ed Oakley owns a warehouse near the river where his current property insurance policy is $2,500. He's been told flood insurance would cost an additional $7,500.
"It's going to be one of the worst economic issues for this city if we don't get these levees certified in time before the flood plain maps are adopted," he said.
Commercial real estate agent Bob Darrouzet sells property in the Dallas Design District, which would fall within the expanded flood zone.
"We can't afford to have 20 feet of water in the Design District," he said. "You'd lose billions of dollars. So we want to be protected, but we need to have it done in a timely fashion."
Officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said they are working as quickly as possible to resolve issues with the city of Dallas.
"I'm not aware of any other civil-works project with such close collaboration and coordination," Col. R.J. Muraski said.
Jordan said the city still hopes to finish the new tests and required repairs in time to beat the December 2011 deadline and avoid the expanded flood insurance requirements.
But the city is also lobbying the federal government to change the rules and planning meetings to explain the flood insurance program to property owners as a last resort.
If it appears the city will not beat the deadline, Oakley said property owners would need to arrange flood insurance before the new flood zone maps are released.
"If you don't, you loose any grandfather rights that you might have," he said.
Jordan said homeowners might pay as much as $1,200 for a flood insurance policy.
Councilwoman Carolyn Davis said it would be unaffordable for senior citizens living near the Trinity River in her district.
"We've got to do something," she said. "That is going to price them out. They can not afford that type of insurance."