2014-09-05 / Community

Town appealing FEMA’s flood predictions

By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNKPORT — The town has crafted an appeal to the flood map revisions drafted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that will affect a portion of Goose Rocks Beach. Werner Gilliam, director of planning and development, has proposed the town formally appeal the part of the 2013 flood map zoning that affects the back marsh area of the beach. In collaboration with Bob Gerber of Ransom Environmental group, Gilliam has proposed that the town expend $12,000 to study the area. The study will provide the town with evidence to validate the appeal. Each municipality affected by the FEMA flood zone shifts is allotted 90 days to appeal.

“We have some conservative estimates about what we think we’re going to accomplish with this. At best we’re looking at, for these back marsh areas, a reduction of possibly a foot,” Gilliam told the board of selectmen at the Aug. 14 meeting. “That may not seem like much,” Gilliam said, “but when you look at how it affects flood insurance policy for folks, it’s a lot.”

Kennebunkport is in the process of writing an official appeal for a change in mapping for the back marsh area of Goose Rocks Beach in FEMA’s 2013 proposed coastal flooding 
map.(Courtesy photo) Kennebunkport is in the process of writing an official appeal for a change in mapping for the back marsh area of Goose Rocks Beach in FEMA’s 2013 proposed coastal flooding map.(Courtesy photo) Based on a report by the town, an estimated 1,800 properties will be affected by the revised 2013 flood mapping.

Across the board, many coastal flood zones have shifted inland, Gilliam said. This shift has the potential to be problematic for residential areas and business owners because, presumably, it puts more properties in high-risk flood zones, which means more expensive flood insurance premiums and more stringent zoning laws. Gerber also worked with Kennebunkport to appeal FEMA’s 2009 mapping of coastal flood zones.

FEMA heard the town’s appeal and incorporated Gerber’s calculations; however, “they changed other things on the back marsh areas: the flood elevations increased,” Gilliam said of Goose Rocks Beach. The 2013 FEMA map also increased flood elevations of the Kennebunk River between 2009 and 2013. Both the Kennebunk River and the back marsh area of Goose Rocks were not areas that Gerber had previously studied, Gilliam said.

Gerber has completed a preliminary study of the Kennebunk River and the town is in possession of that raw data. Gerber and his team have already begun their study of the back marsh area. Gilliam hopes to have results of the study within the next two to three months.

Staying abreast of evolving coastal flood zones is difficult, Gilliam said. There is no fixed time frame dictating how often FEMA releases new flood maps.

It tends to occur every 15 or 20 years, Gilliam said, unless there is a major weather event that spurs a reconsideration of the flooding zones, like Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

“You’re going to get a large number of folks that come out of the woodwork who say, ‘I shouldn’t be in a flood plain because it never floods here,’” Gilliam said. “Ultimately you are left with having a profes- sional engineer use the same methodology (as FEMA), or they have to use another methodology that (causes) FEMA to have to recalculate.” For example, in 2009 when Gerber helped the town appeal, they found that FEMA had used a “much higher wind speed than what we had records for –70-mile-an-hour winds versus the actual recorded wind speed, which was around 50 miles per hour,” Gilliam said.

A lot of the appeal process is “looking at the calculations they use and applying the more realistic numbers we have,” Gilliam said.

The official 90-day appeal period has not yet begun, but the town is working to complete the study as quickly as possible. Said Gilliam, “We’re really doing our homework ahead of the game.”

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