A project intended to divert some Queen Creek residents out of a flood plain has temporarily landed dozens of others in it — soaking them with expensive flood insurance bills.
Residents such as Ken and Debby Rachocki and neighbor Douglas Jensen found themselves facing hundreds of dollars in a lump sum payment for flood insurance last month.
“This is a phony deal,” Jensen said. “My neighbor right across the street, who is at the same elevation as me, isn’t in a flood zone. None of this makes any sense. We’ve never lived in a flood zone, and we’ve lived here 10 or 11 years.”
The homeowners were notified in November that a Maricopa County Flood Control District study on the Sonoqui Wash added their area to an existing Federal Emergency Management Agency flood plain.
The study was required before a project to fortify the banks of the wash and create a retention basin could be completed, town officials said.
Once the Maricopa County project is complete, in about 18 months, the flood plain designation can be removed.
“This project is designed and was supposed to start in January, but financial setbacks in the flood control district will have it starting in July,” said Dick Schaner, the town’s special transportation projects manager.
“Once the job is done, the flood plain will be contained to the channel itself. Then nobody will be a in a flood plain, but it may be as much as two years or more before FEMA maps the change.”
Until then, homeowners will have to foot the cost of the flood insurance.
Debby Rachocki said she was quoted $800 per year for the insurance for their property along the east side of Sossaman Road near Chandler Heights Road. The Rachockis own their home and an adjacent property but only received the notice on the adjacent property they rent out. They decided to pay off their mortgage to dodge the hefty fee.
Jensen, who was quoted insurance rates between $300 and $2,000, calls the situation “a joke” and worked with his insurance agent to get the premium down to a manageable amount. He is paying $317 for a year’s coverage.
The wash study has been ongoing for about three years and looked at the wash from about Higley and Ocotillo roads south to Riggs Road. The study affected roughly 30 to 40 properties, Schaner said.
“While we have helped in the design and have worked with the neighbors, it’s really a county project,” Town Councilman Jon Wootten said. “The result of those maps being changed prior to the improvements surprised me.”
Schaner said that while the study started awhile ago, the results were probably only recently published by FEMA — alerting the mortgage companies.
“Doing a study doesn’t make a flood plain, it identifies it and puts it on a map,” Schaner said. “This area wasn’t identified on a FEMA map before, so flood insurance wasn’t required.”
Don Griffin, a vice president with the Property Causality Insurers Association of America, said whether flood insurance is required is determined by the type of mortgage or the lender.
The cost has to be paid in a lump sum because insurance companies hand the money over to the federal government. The insurance is federally subsidized. It is usually not refunded unless the home is sold, Griffin said. As for further delays, Wootten said he anticipates the wash project will get done but is in the hands of the Maricopa County Flood Control District. “We’re at their mercy,” Wootten said. “We’re not in control over our own destiny on some of these projects. If it continues to get pushed back we’ll argue and fight to get it done.”