40,000 Miami residents get bogus flood zone notices; city doesn't plan to issue corrections
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
The City of Miami mistakenly wrote to 40,000 residents that their homes are in flood zones and doesn't plan to write again to correct the error.
That angers Commissioner Tomás Regalado, whose Shenandoah neighborhood was flooded with the bogus notices.
He said he's sent letters and e-mails to constituents clarifying the mistake. But he said the city has been slow in informing residents about the error — made public over a week ago — and is causing some to begin seeking flood insurance they don't need to buy.
"This is a serious mistake.... But the city has been dormant about correcting it," he said.
About 111,000 letters went out this month. Of these, 71,000 were sent to all properties in Miami urging owners to prepare for hurricane season and instructing them on flood safety.
But the additional 40,000, intended for residents in flood zones, arrived at mail boxes of people who don't live in a flooding area.
The error occurred after Miami's building department mislabeled two CDs that were then handed to Zip Mail Services, which the city hired to send the letters, said Hector Lima, director of building.
It was the building department's error, Mr. Lima said, because it's in charge of sending the public notices to all city addresses each year in an outreach.
Miami's flood zones include areas east of South Dixie Highway and around the Miami River, he said.
Mr. Regalado, who brought the issue to the city's attention in last Thursday's budget meeting, said neighbors came to his door asking him when the area became a flood zone.
Mr. Lima said he first learned of the mistake last Wednesday when a co-worker who got the letter asked if flood zones had changed.
Mr. Regalado said 311 Call Center, which informs residents on government services, was also getting inquiries.
"I don't criticize the building department because they are overwhelmed, but this is wrong," he said, "You cannot put those fears on people whose only possession is their home."
Mr. Regalado said the confusion reminded him of a mailing error in July when Epiq Systems, the company the city hired to inform property owners of a fire fee refund, sent envelopes labeled "Bankruptcy Documents Enclosed." Epiq quickly corrected the error by re-sending envelopes with the proper notice.
Mr. Lima said he's working with Neighborhood Enhancement Teams offices throughout city neighborhoods to help notify homeowners of the error and "there is no need to send an additional letter."
The notification to be circulated says a letter was sent in error to people in non-flood areas. It asks them to disregard the flood zone portion of the pamphlet, he said.
Mr. Lima is also asking the city communications office to assist. Kelly Penton, communications director, said her department is prepared, if necessary, to put information on the home page of the city's Web site, air a public service message on Miami's Channel 77, and send press releases to media to help inform residents.