PORTLAND – Property owners who question the accuracy of proposed federal flood maps now have a deadline for making their case.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency will start the clock this month on a 90-day appeal process. While local officials pleaded with the agency Monday to give them more time, FEMA officials said they must move forward to meet a deadline that will allow the maps to take effect next June.
Mike Goetz, chief of FEMA’s flood insurance and mitigation division in New England, said the agency will seriously consider new data submitted by property owners or municipalities, and will revise the maps to correct any mistakes.
“I don’t want to force bad information down anybody’s throat,” he told local officials during a meeting at Portland’s Ocean Gateway terminal. “I want to make good maps.”
FEMA officials met with officials from South Portland and Cape Elizabeth in the morning. In the afternoon, they met with officials from Portland, Harpswell, Falmouth, Kennebunkport and Kennebunk.
Representatives of Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe and Rep. Chellie Pingree attended both meetings.
All of the municipalities have hired Robert Gerber, an engineer for Sebago Technics in Westbrook, who specializes in computer modeling of environmental systems.
For many property owners in coastal and low-lying areas, the proposed maps would put their properties in flood zones, and require them to buy flood insurance if they hold mortgages. They also would face more stringent standards for additions and new construction.
Some of the most exposed coastal areas would be designated high-risk zones — called V-zones — where the construction standards would be so expensive that new development could be impractical.
In Harpswell, for example, which has more than 200 miles of coastline, a significant portion would be in the V-zone. Some people who own house lots wouldn’t be permitted to build on their lots, said Kristi Eiani, the town administrator.
Two-thirds of Kennebunkport would be in a flood zone — a 50 percent increase from the current flood map, said Town Manager Larry Mead.
People who buy flood insurance before the new flood maps are issued will be able get federally subsidized insurance, which will be far less expensive than if they wait until after the maps are issued.
Flood insurance for low-risk areas through the National Flood Insurance Program can cost as little as $119 a year, while the cost in high-risk areas could be more than $2,000 a year.
Mead said most people in Kennebunkport are less concerned about the cost of insurance than they are with building rules that could make expansions and new construction prohibitively expensive.
The building rules, for example, could require new buildings and additions to be erected several feet off the ground.
After all appeals have been resolved, FEMA plans to issue a “letter of final determination” in December.
Goetz said the deadline gives the agency time for internal quality reviews and gives towns that hold town meetings time to prepare warrants for approval. Towns must approve the maps to give property owners access to federally subsidized flood insurance.
Eiani and other local leaders said they wanted to discuss Gerber’s data with FEMA before the appeal process started, an opportunity that was granted to Portland.
But Goetz said the appeal process will essentially be the same process that Portland went through to have changes made in its flood map.
If issues remain at the end of 90 days, he said, the agency will still be able to consider changes. However, any delay now will delay implementation of the flood maps until 2012. He said he expects the 90-day appeal process will begin in two to three weeks.
Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: [email protected]