Harpswell seeks Congressional help with FEMA deadline on flood map appeal

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HARPSWELL — The town is seeking help from Maine’s Congressional delegation in submitting new information for its appeal of portions of a new flood zone designation proposed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

An Aug. 31 letter from FEMA to the town, responding to the town’s July appeal, asks for additional data within 30 days.

Concerned that the window of time is too small, Town Administrator Kristi Eiane has drafted a letter from the Board of Selectmen seeking guidance and assistance from U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree.

The town and other municipalities believe some of the data FEMA used is inaccurate and wrongly places some properties in the new flood zone. Eiane said Harpswell has spent $17,000 for consultant Bob Gerber of Sebago Technics to review portions of the flood designation.

“He developed a different methodology that led to different results,” Eiane said Monday.

She said the town is determining how much more it will cost for Gerber to address FEMA’s request for additional data. Gerber said he would need more than the 30 days FEMA offered to provide that information.

“We’re not sure we have the financial resources to respond to the request for information from FEMA, and we feel somewhat unfairly burdened by the request, and that there is this unrealistic time frame,” Eiane said.

Communities contesting the flood designation have argued that it could stymie development or force homeowners to purchase expensive flood insurance. With more than 200 miles of coastline, Harpswell expects major impact from the proposed flood zone.

The town’s 90-day appeal period began Sept. 2, Eiane said.

“We are pressing FEMA for accuracy and to really look closely at the work that Gerber has done, because it would actually lead to different conclusions and different mapping zones,” she said.

Harpswell officials and residents met with officials from FEMA’s Boston office on Sept. 2. Eiane said more than 200 property owners attended the gathering, where maps showing the proposed floodplain were available for viewing. Those maps can be viewed electronically, too, in the town’s codes office.

During the meeting’s public-comment period, Eiane said, “many people thought there really wasn’t a significant problem in Harpswell with the floodplain situation. In fact, we got data from the Maine State Planning Office that showed since 1978 there have only been 32 claims under the national flood insurance program for about a $68,800 payout. The numbers just aren’t really that big.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.