2017-09-08 / Front Page

Flood maps: Waiting is the hardest part

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

The waiting game continues for new flood insurance rate maps from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Preliminary maps were released for adoption in 2009, but after comment and appeals from residents across the state, FEMA pulled them back in 2010 and went back to the drawing board.

Preliminary maps were re-released in late 2013, but once again were pulled back due to what some had seen as flawed data. They were reworked and the maps were unveiled again in April.

FEMA has eyed July 2019 as the target date for the maps to go into effect.

Flood insurance rate maps, which show if areas are at low, moderate or high risks of flood damage, are used to regulate how buildings can be constructed, or reconstructed, in flood zones, to determine flood insurance ratings and to help with community planning. Scarborough’s flood maps were last updated in the 1980s. Maps for other parts of the state, including Androscoggin, Hancock, Knox, Lincoln, Oxford, Sagadahoc and Waldo counties have already been updated.

Residents are encouraged to consult the maps to see if their properties have been placed in the special flood hazard area, which could impact development on the site and the amount of flood insurance needed. Maps can be found online on the Department of Public Works website (www.scarboroughmaine.org/departments/public-works/webgis), FEMA’s mapping website or in the Planning and Code Enforcement office in the basement of town hall.

“It’s best to get out ahead of the maps even though we are a ways off from making them effective,” said Sue Baker, the state’s coordinator of the National Flood Insurance Program and employee of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s Maine Flood Management Program.

Baker said it is particularly important for people who are taking on a new mortgage to see how their property may be impacted.

Planning Director Jay Chace said by and large the maps his office received are the same maps from 2013.

“We still believe there are modeling issues in the marsh area, not to say modeling in the ocean area is perfect,” he said.

Chace said while the 2013 maps are a “vast improvement” over the 2009 version, there still may be “upwards of 100 to 200 residents that could be erroneously impacted based on modeling they used.”

FEMA held a community coordination meeting for Cumberland County communities Tuesday, Aug. 22 and this fall and winter, residents and communities will have a chance to comment on the flood hazard information changes and, if needed, appeal. The 90-day comment/appeal period is expected to take place between November and January, but that timeline has not be finalized.

Kerry Bogdan, project manager and senior engineer for FEMA Region 1, which covers New England, said the comment/appeal period can only begin after the process has been advertised in the Federal Register and two local newspapers.

An appeal can be filed, according to FEMA, if “the new or revised flood hazard information is believed to be scientifically or technically incorrect.” Information is scientifically incorrect if “the methodology used and assumptions made in the determination of the information are inappropriate or incorrect” and information is technically incorrect of “the methodology was not applied correctly or was based on insufficient or poor quality data” if “the methodology did not account for the effects of physical changes that have occurred in the floodplain.”

After the comments and appeals are received, reviewed and resolved, Bogdan said FEMA will release a letter of final determination – a document FEMA sends to a municipality’s top official such as a mayor or council/ selectboard chairman, telling them the organization considers the maps finalized and they will go into effect within six months.

The letter of final determination, she said, is anticipated for January 2019.

“We try to time the issuance of the letter of final determination so it syncs up with the communities getting the maps on the warrant for their town meetings so they can be adopted then,” she said, adding there wouldn’t be time to get the topic on meeting warrants for 2018 town meetings.

It will also give FEMA plenty of time to review the comments received during the appeal period.

“We undoubtedly will get comments,” she said. “It gives us some time to go over those comments and make changes, if warranted. Following that there is another slog of quality review we have to go through before we can get the maps finalized to the point of letter of final determination.”

Once that letter is received, communities will have six months to work to implement the new mapping before the new flood insurance risk maps go into effect.

During the six-month compliance period, town officials, according to FEMA, will “review, and if appropriate, revise the community’s floodplain ordinances to ensure they are compliant with (National Flood Insurance Program) regulations.”

The ordinance must be approved by FEMA before the flood insurance risk maps go on the books. Communities that don’t comply can be suspended from the National Flood Insurance Program, which means residents who live in the community cannot purchase new flood insurance coverage and existing policies cannot be renewed.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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