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Fate of Flood Mapping Lies With State Budget-Makers

Some say the program is almost done. Others say staff cuts could let flood data become inaccurate over time.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — As the state House and Senate try to come up with a compromise on the state budget, one staffing cut could save the state about $800,000 over two years — but some officials say it could jeopardize a $122 million program and affect how North Carolinians prepare for hurricanes.

Hurricane Floyd changed the way Carolina prepares for big storms. The state's floodplain mapping program was born after Floyd, updating information on what areas are flood prone and determining who is at risk for that next big storm and who should get flood insurance.

A budget cut, however, could halve the 20-person team in two years.

“We're concerned that the maps will not be maintained, that flood hazard awareness will go down, and by doing that people won't buy the appropriate insurance that they need,” said John Dorman, chief of the Geospatial and Technology Management Section in the state Division of Emergency Management.

The agency has the money to finish mapping the entire state. The problem is maintaining and updating the data down the road.

The House is willing to fund 20 positions the first year of the next budget and 15 the next. The Senate offers 15 the first year and 10 the next.

“More is not always better. And those folks who are saying that we need to stay with 20 and 15 need to make very sure that is not a false security,” said Rep. Alice L. Bordsen, D-Alamance.

“In eastern North Carolina, we had Hurricane Floyd, and that was devastating. We had bodies floating on the water. We had people losing their homes. We had people to die from this hurricane, so we don't want another one of those to happen in North Carolina,” Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield, D-Edgecombe, said.

“The maps are on course to be finished by the summer of 2009, and we don't see that we're putting people in danger by not doing this,” Sen. John Snow, D-Cherokee, said.

The floodplain mapping program also operates a flood-warning system in parts of the state. Dorman says that also might be affected by the staff cuts.

Lawmakers are expected to settle on a new budget by the time the new fiscal year begins July 1.


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