2018-08-10 / In the Know

Scarborough expected to file flood map appeal

By Brian Longstaff Special to the Leader

After many months of anticipation, FEMA has finally announced the start date for the statutory 90-day appeal period for the preliminary new flood maps for York and Cumberland counties.

FEMA was expected to publish a public notification in the Portland Press Herald on or about July 26 and again on Aug. 2. The second date initiates the appeal period.

Property owners that believe they will be adversely affected by the proposed flood hazard determinations may file an appeal, but it must be based on possession of knowledge or information indicating that the proposed determinations are scientifically or technically incorrect.

The town of Scarborough expects to file an appeal based on a study done by Ransom Consulting that indicates the scientific methodology used by FEMA for flood hazard determinations in the marsh or estuarine areas of the Scarborough, Nonesuch and Libby river confluence may be flawed.

If accepted, the appeal would result in significantly lower base flood elevations for many of the properties in that area of Scarborough.

The new preliminary maps indicate significantly higher base flood elevations for most of those portions of the town that already were in a special flood hazard area (SFHA) and in some cases resulted in actual zone changes, placing over one hundred properties in a SFHA for the first time.

The preliminary maps can be viewed on the town website or by visiting town hall.

The new maps will not be effective until after the mandatory 90-day appeal period has elapsed and all appeals have been resolved. Then FEMA will issue a letter of final determination (LFD), and the town must adopt the new FIRMs within six months in order to remain an NFIP community in good standing. FEMA anticipates issuing the LFD by January 2019 and new maps effective by July 2019, but that is subject to change depending on the number of appeals and resulting map revisions.

The following are some frequently asked questions that we receive here in the planning and codes department.

Why are the base flood elevations increasing and placing new areas of town in these areas of special flood hazard?

The old (current) flood maps had an original effective date of June 19, 1985, but were developed several years before then. There have been 7 letters of map revision that involved several of the Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs), and many letters of map amendment (LOMA) for individual property owners since the town adopted the maps and flood management ordinance in 1987. Given the amount of development that has occurred in Scarborough since the old maps were created, it was time for new maps.

Areas that used to be able to accommodate and absorb flood waters from heavy storms are no longer able to do so because the land is no longer in its natural state. Incremental single family development, large scale commercial development, and even changes in land use or topography impact the ability of the flood plain to store and release flood water as it once did.

Mapping technology has also improved greatly since the original maps were created. The old maps were riddled with errors, and new mapping is able to correct many of these errors.

What does this mean for the homeowner?

If you currently own your home, have no federally backed mortgage, and no major home improvement projects planned, it probably won’t have much of an effect on you. However, for those homeowners with federally backed mortgages, plans to refinance your mortgage, plans to do major home improvement projects, or buy or sell a home, it can have a significant impact on you.

Any development that occurs within the mapped SFHA must meet the standards listed in the flood plain management ordinance for the type and location of the development. This may mean that new construction must be elevated so that the bottom floor is at least one foot above the base flood elevation (BFE). Garages and crawl spaces may be required to have hydraulic openings to allow flood waters to enter and recede unimpeded. Commercial buildings must be elevated or flood proofed.

In coastal flood hazard areas known as velocity zones, the structure will need to be secured on a pier, post, or piling type foundation so that waves caused by storm surge can run beneath the structure. No living space is permitted below the BFE.

Will I be required to have flood insurance when the new maps become effective?

Only if you are placed in a special flood hazard area and your mortgage holder requires it. The town makes it possible for property owners to obtain affordable flood insurance by regulating development within the flood prone areas of the community. The financial institutions require flood insurance to reduce their exposure in the event that a building suffers flood damage in a flood event.

Here are some suggestions for homeowners wondering what they should do in preparation for the new maps:

If a homeowner has a flood insurance policy through the National Flood Insurance Program, they should keep it in effect and not let it lapse.

If a homeowner in a SFHA has never had a flood insurance policy, they should consider obtaining one at least 30 days prior to the adoption of the new maps.

If a homeowner was not in a SFHA before, but will be with the new maps, they should obtain a flood insurance policy at least 30 days prior to the adoption of the new maps. They should qualify for a preferred risk policy (PRP), which is the lowest cost premium available, and this will give them time to obtain an elevation certificate that will be used to rate their policy going forward, and also inform them of steps they can take to reduce their flood insurance premium in the future.

Every owner of a building in a SFHA should hire a professional land surveyor to complete an Elevation Certificate (EC). The EC form will be valuable in rating an insurance policy, and in determining compliance with the flood plain ordinance standards, or to apply for a letter of map amendment to remove the property from the flood plain program. This can only be done if the lowest adjacent grade at the foundation is higher than the base flood elevation for that location.

FEMA provides plenty of good information and resources on its website to help you prepare for the new flood maps.

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