(CN) - A federal judge in South Carolina improperly vacated FEMA's 2001 flood map for Richland County, the 4th Circuit ruled. The decision overturns a ruling for a developer whose property fell within the agency's map.
To help identify flood hazards, FEMA measures the potential water level height during a "base flood," also referred to as a "100-year flood." The agency uses these base-flood elevation determinations to prepare flood insurance rate maps for local communities.
Columbia Venture planned to build a research development park on property along the Congaree River. The development's success largely depended on FEMA adopting a floodway that excluded Columbia Venture's land.
FEMA's 1999 proposal did not include the developer's property, but its 2001 revised determinations did. Columbia Venture challenged the determination, arguing that FEMA failed to publish a timely notice in the Federal Register.
U.S. District Judge Margaret Seymour vacated FEMA's elevation determinations based on the publication failure.
The federal appeals court in Richmond reversed, saying "a failure to timely publish does not per se result in nullification of the agency action."
"Columbia Venture has not shown that it suffered prejudice as a result of FEMA's defective publication," the court added.
In a related ruling, the 4th Circuit overturned sanctions against FEMA attorney Margaret M. Bees. Bees allegedly filed two documents erroneously suggesting that FEMA had published notice in the Federal Register in September 1999.
"We agree that the language of the declaration is misleading," the court wrote. "But during the district court hearing, Bees explained that an inadvertent typographical error caused this difficulty.