News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, May 29, 2014
Updated flood zone maps cause a stir in Stonington

by Rich Hewitt

The town has received updated floodplain maps from the federal government and is looking for outside help to determine whether they are accurate.

The town has also scheduled a public meeting on June 12 (see related story in this issue) for the community to view the maps and ask questions.

According to Town Manager Kathleen Billings-Pezaris, the town has contacted Robert Gerber of Ransom Consulting Engineers in Portland who already is working with a number of coastal Maine towns to review their floodplain maps and to verify that they are accurate.

“He seems to be the go-to guy for this,” Billings-Pezaris said at a recent meeting of the board of selectmen. “We want to see if he’s willing to do a preliminary assessment of our maps and give us an opinion on their accuracy.”

If there is an accuracy issue, Gerber would likely be able to help the town if it decides to file an appeal. Towns have 90 days from the time they receive the maps to file an appeal.

“That 90-day clock is ticking already,” Billings-Pezaris said. “If there are individual landowners who need to do an appeal, that [the 90-day-deadline] may apply to them as well.”

The maps and the redrawn floodplain zones they depict are important because they could have a tremendous impact on the property owners in those zones, the premiums they pay for flood insurance and their future ability to develop properties in certain zones.

The maps are revised versions of new maps created by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to redefine the flood risks in Maine and the rest of the nation. They generally expand the flood risk zones inland and also expand the high flood risk areas, in some cases adding new flood zones and upgrading existing zones from low-flow to high-flow areas.

The federal flood insurance rates are based in part on those risk zones, and the revised maps are likely to increase existing flood insurance premiums and to require more property owners to purchase flood insurance.

The increased flood risks could also require the town to reevaluate its ordinances and to stiffen requirements for construction in the new or upgraded zones, according to Billings-Pezaris.

“This is a serious issue and it could have a huge impact on us down here,” she said.

She noted that much of the downtown area of Stonington likely will be affected by these new maps, including several buildings owned by the town.

The maps are available for review at the town office.