TOWANDA - The Progress Authority has arranged for two consultants to work with local communities to possibly find relief from the substantial flood insurance premiums that certain residents located in FEMA's newly mapped flood zones will have to pay, the county's economic development director said.

The consultants, URS Corp. of Williamsport and Michael Baker Jr. Inc. of Harrisburg, have been invited to make a presentation on the services they can offer to municipal officials and residents at the March 27 meeting of the Bradford County commissioners, said Lauren Hotaling, economic development manager for Bradford and Susquehanna counties.

FEMA has been updating its flood insurance rate maps, which include newly redrawn Special Flood Hazard Areas, and those maps are scheduled to be adopted in October 2014, Hotaling said. A Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) is where a 100-year flood would occur, which is the worst flooding that would be expected in 100 years.

Residents in a Special Flood Hazard Area are required to purchase flood insurance if they take out a mortgage, home equity loan, or refinance their mortgage, according to FEMA.

Bradford County Solicitor Jonathan Foster Sr. has said a homeowner in a Special Flood Hazard Area might have to pay $2,000 or $3,000 annually for flood insurance.

Hotaling said she thinks the appeal period for the maps has ended.

Nevertheless, there are five different scenarios for how the consultants can still help in the future, Hotaling said at Thursday's meeting of the Bradford County commissioners.

For example, if a group of landowners believe they should not have been included in a Special Flood Hazard Area, the consultants might be able to do some work "to determine where the real flood (zone) exists," Hotaling said.

The commissioners and Hotaling said they wanted the consultants themselves to explain the other four scenarios at the March 27 commissioners' meeting, because they involve technical matters.

The two consultants are working in partnership with each other, Hotaling said.

The Progress Authority is not paying the consultants, she said.

Residents need to make sure they know whether their homes are in a flood zone and whether they are going to be "hit hard with this flood insurance," Bradford County Commissioner Doug McLinko said.

Homes don't have be located next to a creek or river to be subject to the requirement for flood insurance, he said. Residents should not assume they are outside of a flood zone "unless you are on the top of a hill," McLinko said.

Based on FEMA's new flood insurance rate maps, there are "a lot more people" who will be affected by the requirement to purchase flood insurance than was the case in the past, said Daryl Miller, Bradford County commissioner.

It is hoped that the consultants will also be making presentations to municipal officials at meetings of the Eastern and Western Bradford County councils of governments (COGs), Hotaling said.

During the presentations, the consultants will also discuss two pieces of legislation that affect flood insurance rates: the Biggert-Waters Act of 2012 and the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, which Congress passed earlier this month, Hotaling said.

Towanda Borough officials had addressed the same kinds of issues on their own when they filed an appeal with FEMA last fall on the location of the flood zones in the borough. Towanda officials had said there is land in the borough that does not flood or is not expected to flood, but which is nevertheless included in a flood zone.

The flood insurance rate maps, which in Bradford County were last revised in the 1970s and 1980s, are being updated because there is now better technology to create them, Jon Janowicz, a project engineer with FEMA, has said.

To create the new maps, FEMA measured the lay of the land, or elevation contours, in Bradford County using lasers that were deployed from aircraft, and then did calculations to determine which areas would be under water if a 100-year flood would occur, Ray Stolinas, Bradford County planning director, has said. "It's the most accurate way we can do it (determine the location of SFHAs)," he has said.

The locations of some SFHAs are also changing because the course of local creeks has shifted over the years, he has said.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633, or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.