New flood maps put parts of Freeport at increased risk

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FREEPORT — A consultant Tuesday told local officials who are pushing back against new floodplain maps that the Federal Emergency Management Agency tends to overestimate potential damages. 

The town is one of seven municipalities working with Ransom Consulting to appeal the maps, which were issued in April. 

Town officials organized the public meeting with Ransom Consulting engineer Nate Dill Dec. 12 to discuss how updates could affect properties. State and town officials and map experts attended the meeting to provide information and answer questions. 

Sue Baker, state coordinator for the National Floodplain Insurance Program, said Maine requires the lowest floor of a building to be a foot above the base flood elevation according to FEMA’s Flood Insurance Study report. Base flood elevations are used to require the purchase of flood insurance and to regulate new development.

Town Manager Peter Joseph said the most concerning changes to FEMA’s April issued maps are switching parts of town from an A zone to a V zone, based on how FEMA analyzed base flood elevations. 

Code Enforcement Officer Nick Adams said some of these changes were made to coastal areas along Staples Point Road, Lower Flying Point Road, Harraseeket Road, and Main Street in South Freeport Village. 

According to the National Flood Insurance Program, any building in an A or V zone is considered to be in a Special Flood Hazard Area and is lower than the base flood elevation; V zones are considered the most hazardous. 

In A zones, there are three ways to elevate a building: fill or “slab on grade” foundations, solid foundation walls with flood vents or hydraulic openings, or on an open foundation system. 

In a V zone, the only way new or substantially improved buildings can be constructed are on open foundation systems. 

Joseph said there were also significant high-tide height increases in FEMA’s most recent maps, which could affect building standards. For instance, Staples Point Road where Winslow Park is located, which is almost all town-owned, saw an increase of about 10 feet. 

“FEMA wants to default to being conservative in their proposal, but we try to be more specific,” Joseph said. 

According to Joseph, the town’s work with Ransom Consulting precedes his time as town manager and began in “either 2011 or 2012.”

The Portland-based environmental consulting firm, which represents six other towns in Cumberland and York counties, including Harpswell and Portland, drafted an appeal for Freeport in 2013. However, the revisions were never submitted to FEMA because the agency retracted its preliminary maps in 2014, before ever opening an appeal period.  

The latest FEMA maps were intended to address discrepancies in the 2013 maps.

Dill said his firm has kept much of its floodplain map the same since it was completed in 2014 by a former consultant, Bob Gerber. According to Dill, Gerber’s proposed revisions to FEMA’s map were based on more accurate wave modeling and revised wind speeds. 

He added that the most significant change since FEMA’s 2013 preliminary map is the use of “newer, more topographic” data to draw boundaries. 

Baker said the earliest FEMA could issue their final maps at this point is January 2019. Freeport and other municipalities would have to submit appeals within 90 days, and the maps could become effective within six months. 

Effective and preliminary floodplain maps can be searched by address, place, or longitude and latitude coordinates at FEMA’s website

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Consultant Nate Dill spoke with Freeport residents Dec. 12 about how his firm is working with the town to appeal preliminary federal flood plan maps issued in April.

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