Category Archives: Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

FEMA Flood Maps: Valero oil train risks likely greater than previously known

Benicia Industrial Park in high risk flood zone

By Roger Straw, Benicia Independent, 6/12/15
FEMA map - Benicia Industrial Park - Panel_634_PORTRAIT(1200)

Click on map to enlarge

On June 8, the City of Benicia notified residents and businesses that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has released a new set of flood hazard maps for Solano County. These maps delineate areas that are at risk for coastal flooding as identified through the San Francisco Bay Area Coastal Study. The new maps are released for public review for a 90-day appeal period ending September 7, 2015.

The map above shows Benicia’s Industrial Park, with Lake Herman at the top.  This FEMA map shows utter vulnerability of the area proposed for Valero’s rail terminal off-loading racks.

It is likely these maps will add yet another layer of risk to Valero’s proposal.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the City’s consultants will need even more time to weigh these risks before releasing the revised Draft Environmental Impact Report.  The report is currently scheduled for release on August 31, 2015.

FULL SIZE COPY OF THE IMAGE ABOVE

CITY OF BENICIA – 23-PAGE SUMMARY

…MORE ON THE CITY WEBSITE

THE BENICIA HERALD: Report on city’s climate change vulnerability calls for action

City Media Release

June 8, 2015

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has released preliminary flood hazard maps also known as Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) for Solano County. These maps delineate areas that are at risk for coastal flooding as identified through the San Francisco Bay Area Coastal Study. The new maps are released for public review for a 90-day appeal period ending September 7, 2015. The maps are expected to become effective in summer, 2016.

Flood hazard maps indicate whether properties are in areas of high, moderate or low flood risk. In reviewing the preliminary maps, which are not yet adopted, many property owners may find that their risk is higher or lower than the current maps indicate. While the preliminary flood maps provide improved accuracy about flood risks based upon past data and modeling for future flood events, they do not project or account for potential impacts associated with climate change and sea level rise.

Flooding is the most common disaster in the United States. Property owners in a high-risk flood zone are required to have flood insurance if they hold a mortgage that is secured by loans from federally regulated or insured lenders. Additionally, homeowners, renters and business owners are encouraged to look at the preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Maps to become familiar with flood risks in their community. These flood maps can help individuals and businesses make informed decisions about flood insurance options and flood protection measures.

The new maps are preliminary and have not yet been officially adopted. The City of Benicia encourages residents and business owners to review the preliminary maps to learn about local flood risks and identify any concerns or questions about the information provided.  A public comment and appeal period will be opening on June 10, 2015 where property owners will be able to submit comments and appeals to FEMA regarding the maps’ accuracy. Following the appeal period, FEMA staff will prepare final maps, which are expected to become effective in summer, 2016. When the maps become effective, any related new insurance and floodplain management requirements will take effect.

Owners of affected properties will be notified by a letter sent to the current owner of record. Affected property owners and interested others are invited to attend an open house meeting on July 8, 2015 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Liberty High School Gymnasium, 350 East K Street. Staff from FEMA and the City of Benicia will be on hand to provide information and answer questions. To learn more, contact the City of Benicia at 707-746-4240.

The preliminary flood maps are available for viewing in the Community Development and Public Works Departments, located at 250 East L Street in Benicia. The City offices are open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. noon and 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Maps are also available to view on the City of Benicia’s website by selecting the yellow “Flood Maps” tab on the left-hand side of the homepage http://www.ci.benicia.ca.us or at the Benicia Public Library, 150 East L Street, during the library’s regular hours of operation, Monday through Thursday from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and Friday through Sunday from noon to 6:00 p.m.

To obtain information from FEMA directly, visit http://www.fema.gov/preliminaryfloodhaza…, call 877-FEMA-MAP (877-336-2627) or email FEMAMapSpecialist@riskmapcds.com.

CONTACT: Graham Wadsworth
Public Works Director/City Engineer
(707) 746-4240

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Wall Street Journal: Federal Worst Case Urban Disaster Planning for Oil Trains

Repost from The Wall Street Journal

Disaster Plans for Oil Trains

Federal officials devise scenario involving a train explosion to prepare officials for the worst

By Russell Gold,  April 13, 2015 7:54 p.m. ET

Oil trains traverse Jersey City, N.J., where officials are concerned about the potential for a spill. Photo: Joe Jackson/The Wall Street Journal

Imagine a mile-long train transporting crude oil derailing on an elevated track in Jersey City, N.J., across the street from senior citizen housing and 2 miles from the mouth of the Holland Tunnel to Manhattan.

The oil ignites, creating an intense explosion and a 300-foot fireball. The blast kills 87 people right away, and sends 500 more to the hospital with serious injuries. More than a dozen buildings are destroyed. A plume of thick black smoke spreads north to New York’s Westchester County.

This fictional—but, experts say, plausible—scenario was developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in one of the first efforts by the U.S. government to map out what an oil-train accident might look like in an urban area. Agency officials unveiled it as part of an exercise last month to help local firefighters and emergency workers prepare for the kind of crude-by-rail accident that until now has occurred mostly in rural locations.

“Our job is to design scenarios that push us to the limit, and very often push us to the point of failure so that we can identify where we need to improve,” said FEMA spokesman Rafael Lemaitre. He said a second planning exercise is scheduled in June in a suburban area of Wisconsin.

WSJ-Widespread_Damage

Jersey City’s mayor, Steven Fulop, said the drill showed participants that they need to improve regional communication to cope with an oil-train accident.

“It would be a catastrophic situation for any urban area and Jersey City is one of the most densely populated areas in the entire country,” he said.

Railroad records show that about 20 oil trains a week pass through the county that contains Jersey City, and Mr. Fulop said the trains use the elevated track studied in the FEMA exercise. Even more trains hauling crude pass through other cities, including Chicago, Philadelphia and Minneapolis.

Rail shipments of oil have expanded to almost 374 million barrels last year from 20 million barrels in 2010, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Although low crude prices and safety issues have recently led to small declines in such traffic, trains carrying volatile oil from North Dakota and the Rocky Mountains continue to rumble toward refiners on the East, West and Gulf Coasts.

Edgardo Correa, of Jersey City, N.J., beneath railroad tracks that pass by his home. Photo: Joe Jackson/The Wall Street Journal

Several oil-train derailments have produced huge fireballs, including two in March in rural Illinois and Ontario. In 2013, a train carrying North Dakota crude derailed late at night in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people.

Regulators worry more about a serious accident in a densely populated area. “The derailment scenario FEMA developed is a very real possibility and a very real concern,” said Susan Lagana, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Transportation. She said her agency was considering emergency orders to address such risks.

Firefighters at the FEMA workshop in Jersey City discussed the difficulty of battling a crude-oil fire, which can be explosive and hard to extinguish. One problem: limited supplies of the special foam required to smother the flames.

Jordan Zaretsky, a fire battalion chief in nearby Teaneck, N.J., who attended the presentation, said the scale of such an accident was sobering. “This isn’t a structural fire that we can knock down in an hour or two,” he said. “This is something we’d be dealing with for days.”

Ideas discussed at the workshop included devising a system to allow local officials to know when an oil train was passing through, developing public-service messages to tell residents what to do in case of a derailment and providing more firefighters with specialized training.

There have been many calls for changes to how crude oil is handled on the railroads, including new speed limits for trains and requirements to treat the crude oil to make it less volatile.

Earlier this month, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board urged the rail industry and federal regulators to move more swiftly to replace existing tank cars with ones that would better resist rupturing and fire.

A spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, a trade group for oil producers, said the companies are committed to “greater efforts to prevent derailments through track maintenance and repair, upgrades to the tank car fleet, and giving first responders the knowledge and tools they need.”

The Association of American Railroads recognizes that “more has to be done to further advance the safe movement of this product,” a spokesman said.

FEMA chose for the location of the derailment scenario a stretch of track adjacent to the New Jersey Turnpike and about a mile from downtown Jersey City. One side of the track is industrial and includes an electric substation. The other side is residential.

Edgardo Correa, a 59-year-old retired sanitation worker, lives in a house close to the tracks in Jersey City. He said he was aware that trains full of crude pass by his home. “It’s an alarming thing,” he said.

—Joe Jackson contributed to this article.
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