FEMA to hold meeting with Harpswell to explain flood maps

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HARPSWELL — The federal agency proposing new floodplain maps will meet with residents to discuss new flood zones that have already been assailed by other communities as inaccurate.

The Sept. 2 meeting is between town officials, residents and regional officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It comes amid FEMA’s controversial changes to the floodplain, which have already met resistance in several southern Maine communities.

The communities challenging the new maps say the flood designation could impede development or force homeowners to buy expensive flood insurance.

Harpswell, which has more than 200 miles of coastline, could be significantly impacted by the new flood zone. The town, along with several other southern Maine communities, has already hired a consultant to refute FEMA’s data. 

Town officials also met with FEMA officials in two separate meetings in Portland last month, arguing that agency’s mapping models failed to account for the islands, inlets and harbors unique to Maine’s coastline.

The agency has admitted some of the maps are inaccurate and expressed a willingness to correct them. However, town officials and members of the state’s congressional delegation say the cost of refuting the maps has unfairly fallen on the shoulders of individual communities.

Portland, for example, paid over $10,000 for a consultant to produce evidence that FEMA’s floodplain in Portland Harbor was inaccurate. Smaller communities, such as Harpswell, are expected to pay even more – up to $17,000 in some instances.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the ranking member of the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee, in a July meeting with FEMA officials in Washington D.C. was critical of the proposed maps.

“Undoubtedly, other communities across the nation will also likely object to FEMA’s proposed maps,” Collins said. “The economic consequences of revised flood maps can be quite dramatic and devastating, particularly in the current economic climate.”

In a statement sent earlier this week, Collins said the cost for accurate mapping “should be FEMA’s responsibility.”

Communities refuting the flood zone in June hoped FEMA would delay its map adoption process in order to consider new evidence.

South Portland, for example, submitted its consultant report early this spring hoping the agency would review it. However, according to city officials, FEMA never contacted them to correct the proposed flood zone.

During the two June meetings in Portland, FEMA officials from the Region 1 office in Boston said they couldn’t delay the adoption process because it could push back the new flood designation by another year.

That led town officials to worry that FEMA didn’t have the capacity to fully consider the updated data during a fast-approaching 90-day appeal period.

The appeal period initiates a series of rigid adoption steps that could force communities to agree to the maps by June 2011, or risk being kicked out of the National Flood Insurance Program.

The appeal period was expected to start in late July.

The Sept. 2 meeting will be held at Harpswell Island School at 6 p.m. The proposed maps will be available for residents to review.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or smistler@theforecaster.net