November 6, 2013

New flood zones to hit some Maine landowners hard

Insurance costs may soar and restrictions will apply to land in expanded areas. But owners can appeal.

By Jessica Hall jhall@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

and J. Craig Anderson canderson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

TO VIEW the new flood maps, click here.

Maine homeowners who don’t buy flood insurance now could be in for a rude awakening if the new boundaries put their properties in hazard zones, said Dennis Hilton, an insurance broker in Damariscotta.

“I’m sure that anyone at any moment can get a call from their (mortgage lender) saying they have to buy flood insurance,” said Hilton, president of Cheney Insurance.

Homeowners who don’t have mortgages may not find out about the boundary changes until they try to sell their homes, Hilton said. Any owner who isn’t sure whether their property has been reclassified as a flood hazard should contact their city or town, check the FEMA website or call a flood insurance broker, he said.

About 7,000 flood insurance policies are now in effect in Maine, with coverage totaling nearly $900 million, according to the state.

It’s crucial that property owners pay attention to the new maps and determine whether they will be affected, said Katz-Leavy, with Verrill Dana. Cities and towns may file appeals, but individual property owners may have more luck making their own appeals and hiring their own engineers and lawyers to dispute FEMA’s findings.

Disputes can escalate to the federal district court level, he said.

“Most property owners are not fully aware of what’s going on,” said Katz-Leavy. “There’s a limited time to respond, so don’t wait.”

Homeowners who had appeals of the 2009 maps pending and want to appeal their inclusion in the new maps will have to restart the appeals process, said Gerber, with Ransom Consulting.

Maine’s rate of flood plain appeals is three times the national average, according to the Maine Floodplain Management Program. In Maine, there is an appeal for every 3,763 people. The national average is one for every 10,209 people, according to FEMA.

In the past 20 years, there have been more than 3,400 flood plain map appeals in Maine, costing property owners more than $2.6 million, according to the State Planning Office.

For example, the city of Portland appealed the 2009 maps because much of the waterfront was designated a high-hazard zone. That would have halted construction on Portland’s piers and any rebuilding of structures that were more than half destroyed by storms.

Portland and its consultants worked with FEMA to look at other, more accurate data. That reduced the area that was designated as high-risk.

The issue of flood insurance is being addressed at the federal level. A bipartisan group of U.S. senators proposed the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act last month to delay many premium increases until FEMA completes a required study on the affordability of flood insurance.

Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

jhall@pressherald.com

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

canderson@pressherald.com

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