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Penobscot Bay Press
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News Feature

Originally published in Compass, August 21, 2014
Clock now ticking for flood plain appeals
Preliminary rate map approved

by Rich Hewitt

The clock is ticking.

FEMA has officially notified towns in Hancock County that it has issued a preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM), and in some cases, a Flood Insurance Study report, for the entire county.

The formal notice came in ads which appeared in weekly papers last news cycle. That’s when FEMA’s 90-day appeal period began.

The notice comes as no surprise to local town officials, many of whom have been anticipating the start of the appeals period. Towns have had copies of the proposed maps since this spring and, according to Judy Jenkins, the code enforcement officer in several towns in the Blue Hill Peninsula area, they received advanced notification that the ads would run.

That time allows the towns to appeal the proposed information included in the FIRMs, which includes proposed flood hazard determinations, including the “addition or modification of base flood levels, base flood depths, special flood hazard area boundaries or zone designations or the regulatory floodway.” The information in these designations is highly technical and most towns have had to hire an engineer to work with them to file the appeal.

These determinations are the basis for federal flood plain management requirements that towns must meet in order to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program. In some cases, the changes in designations could result in higher flood insurance rates. Some town officials also fear that designation changes which put areas into a high flood-risk category, could impact property values and impact property sales and economic development.

According to media reports, some towns in the southern part of the state, which received their preliminary maps earlier than Downeast towns, have successfully appealed some of the FIRM designations. Jenkins noted that the maps and designations can be changed once they have been formally adopted, but added that the process is much easier before the FIRMs become official.

FEMA officials in Maine have indicated that they hope to have all of the appeals in the state resolved so the maps can become effective sometime next summer.

For more information about what this means in specific towns, contact the local code enforcement officer or planning board.