Harpswell officials seek residents' eyes, FEMA's ears in flood map appeal

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HARPSWELL — Town officials are encouraging residents potentially affected by federally revised floodplain maps to be proactive.

The message comes as the town gears up to appeal portions of the new flood designation proposed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Harpswell, like several other municipalities, is arguing that some of the data the agency used is inaccurate and incorrectly puts some properties in the flood zone.

According to Town Administrator Kristi Eiane, Harpswell has spent $17,000 for a consultant to contest portions of the flood designation.

The cost, which Eiane expects to grow, is already $7,000 more more than Portland reportedly paid to fight FEMA’s flood designation for Portland Harbor.

Harpswell and several other southern Maine communities have justified the expense by saying the flood designation could impede development or force homeowners to buy expensive flood insurance.

Harpswell, which has more than 200 miles of coastline, is expecting significant impact from the proposed flood zone. The town has already submitted its consultant report challenging portions of the designation.

Eiane said this week that’s she’s hopeful FEMA will consider the report during a 90-day appeal period scheduled to begin Aug. 26.

Additionally, town officials and residents will meet with officials from FEMA’s Region 1 office in Boston. The Sept. 2 meeting will be held at 6 p.m. at Harpswell Islands School.

Eiane said maps showing the proposed floodplain will be available for inspection. The maps can currently be viewed electronically in the town’s codes office.

Bob Gerber of Sebago Technics, the town’s consultant, is expected to present elements of his report refuting the maps, while FEMA officials are also expected to speak.

The meeting follows two held in July in South Portland and Portland. In both meetings, FEMA officials acknowledged 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.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, recently said the cost for accurate mapping “should be FEMA’s responsibility.” Collins, the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said in a July meeting with FEMA officials in Washington D.C. that “the economic consequences of revised flood maps can be quite dramatic and devastating, particularly in the current economic climate.”

Communities refuting the flood zone in June hoped FEMA would delay its map adoption process in order to consider new evidence. But the agency has resisted that request, saying delays in the adoption process could push back the new flood designation by another year.

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.

This week, Eiane said she is hopeful the agency will hear Harpswell’s case.

“We’ve gotten the attention of FEMA and the impression we’ve received is they have a great deal of respect for (the consultant’s) work,” Eiane said.

“We’re just looking for accuracy,” she added.

Eiane said she also hopes residents affected by the maps will attend the Sept. 2 meeting, or visit the codes office to review the maps.

“We don’t want residents caught off guard by this,” Eiane said.

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

Sidebar Elements

Flood map review

HARPSWELL — Town officials will meet with officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Thursday, Sept. 2, to discuss a proposed floodplain designation.

The meeting begins at 6 p.m. and will feature copies of the maps for residents’ inspection. Town officials, their consultant and FEMA officials will discuss impacts of the new designation, portions of which are disputed by the town.

Town officials are also encouraging residents to inspect digital renderings of the floodplain at the codes office.

For more information, visit www.harpswell.maine.gov.