The burgeoning controversy over proposed federal changes to the official maps designating which areas of the state are most prone to flooding involves one of those critical balancing acts involving competing benefits. That’s what makes the whole process so hard.

It’s easy to say that something is worth doing when no one is hurt and many people benefit, or when a due penalty is assessed if a law is broken.

But this issue is not one of those clear-cut cases. Deciding what areas are prone to flooding according to standardized criteria is intended to benefit communities and individuals by either requiring special precautions be taken before building there, or making sure current structures have adequate insurance.

That, however, imposes burdens on the people who either own existing structures, or who have land in the “flood zones” and intend to sell or develop it in the future.

Those burdens aren’t the fault of the property owners, who suddenly find themselves vulnerable to either new expenses or construction limits they did not anticipate.

Having land or structures that a bureaucrat determines to be at a greater risk of flood damage, based on new maps drawn up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, could require considerable additional expense for insurance or costly new construction, or it could mean that planned projects might not be able to be built at all.

While not disputing that it is important to prevent floods from wreaking preventable havoc, everything possible should be done to ensure that the new maps are accurate reflections of the actual risk, and vulnerable property owners are aided in dealing with it to the maximum extent possible.

FEMA is counting down toward its deadline for the new maps. It will start a 90-day period for appealing those new maps soon, with its “letter of final determination” due by December.

That has led Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud to support legislation in the U.S. House that would give guidance to FEMA in determining flood zones in built-up areas such as Portland Harbor and strengthen the National Flood Insurance Program to aid eligible homeowners to procure affordable coverage.

Vulnerable Mainers need their delegation working hard to keep this program aimed at their best interests.


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