Poinciana doesn't look like a community in a "flood zone" -- but the federal government says otherwise. (Photo by Michael Freeman).
POINCIANA – For some Poinciana homeowners, the clock is ticking.
There’s now less than two weeks until the deadline for local residents to demonstrate why the federal government shouldn’t consider them to be living in a flood zone – and unfortunately, said community resident and activist Annette Brown Best, not enough of them are bothering to do this.
What’s going to happen if they don’t, she said, is their homeowners insurance rates will soar as they get officially placed in a flood zone.
“When they get that letter from the bank saying ‘Your mortgage is going up,’ they’re going to blame the APV (Association of Poinciana Villages, the community’s homeowners association). They’re going to blame Osceola County.”
But no matter how many times Brown Best says she’s knocked on doors to warn people about this, they simply don’t believe her.
“Two-thousand people don’t know this,” she said. “People are just ignoring it. A lady said to me, ‘I’m not going into a flood zone.’ I said, ‘Yes, you are.’ She said ‘No, I’m not.’ They think they’re not in a flood zone because it wasn’t that way when they first bought their house.”
What’s changed is the attitude of the federal government, said Mary Beth Salisbury, the community relations manager for the Osceola County Extension Office.
“We’ve had a lot of growth in this area, and when that happens, things change,” she said. “The county last fall actually hired a consultant to look at what FEMA said, and these are the areas we are concerned about for floods.”
FEMA has given Osceola County residents until May 17 to respond and say why they should not be considered to be living in a flood zone. If not, the government will automatically classify certain neighborhoods as now being flood zones, even if that was not the case when the homeowner first bought their property.
“What we’ve tried to do is go out into the communities and say ‘If you are in one of these map-changing communities, like it or not, you have to do things to respond to that,’ ” Salisbury said. “We were very disappointed in the number of people who came out when we held meetings, trying to help them.”
The U.S. government contacted Osceola County last year to inform officials that some of its communities were in a flood zone, including several neighborhoods in Poinciana, even though there’s never been a single instance of a home that got flooded in the community of 10 villages that cuts across Polk and Osceola counties.
FEMA now uses topographical surveys, which employ advanced satellite screenings, to make these determinations. Those screenings have indicated that some parts of Poinciana are now in a potentially risky flood zone.
The FEMA designation of being in a High Risk Flood Zone means banks and mortgage lenders would now require the homeowners to get flood insurance, which can run as high as $2,000 a year, depending on how risky the flood zone is considered to be by the government.
“If you’re within 100 feet of a flood zone, the bank can make you buy flood insurance,” Brown Best said.
It can have even more serious consequences than that, Salisbury said.
“Being in a Flood Way means if I decide to put a garage near my house, or a shed, I am no longer able to do that because FEMA says that house should not have been built there in the first place,” she said. “That means if there’s a flood and 50 percent of my home is demolished, I can’t rebuild it.”
Brown Best said the challenge is getting this information out to homeowners. She considered asking the schools to give kids a notice to take home to their parents, but quickly discovered that “The Schools won’t give it out,” she said. “They won’t allow you to give anything to the students that is political and is not about education. Now, in the Polk County schools, they will, but not Osceola.”
So far, FEMA has not contacted Polk County about any Poinciana homes in newly designated flood zones. There are more than 31,000 people living in Poinciana-Polk County, and more than 50,000 in Poinciana-Osceola County.
The options are limited for these homeowners. There’s been the 90 day period to challenge FEMA’s ruling, and residents need to hire a surveyor to do a study and see if they can convince the federal government that their property isn’t in a flood zone. A form must be filled out by the surveyor for each home and submitted to FEMA by the May 17 deadline.
A local engineering firm — Hanson, Walter & Associates of Kissimmee — has agreed to do these surveys at a cost of $150 per house.
Any resident who does get put into a designated flood zone, Brown Best said, can expect to pay an additional $365 a year for flood insurance – at first. It could rise as high as $2,000 a year within a few years.
But no matter how hard she’s tried to sound the alarm, Brown Best said, it’s been falling on deaf ears.
“How do you get people to go to the meetings,” she said. “I knocked on doors. They don’t believe me.”

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