, Newburyport, MA

Local News

February 11, 2014

'Precedent-setting' decision fuels new effort in flood map fight

NEWBURYPORT — Armed with “precedent-setting” evidence, federal lawmakers are taking a new and stronger tack in their effort to undo federal flood maps that have placed thousands of coastal property owners into expensive, high-risk flood insurance zones.

The town of Rockport recently won its appeal of federal flood maps for the Long Beach section of town, based largely on evidence that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) used Pacific Coast wave patterns to draw its maps. Rockport officials argued those wave patterns are inaccurate for the Atlantic Coast, and submitted data that supported wave patterns that were more accurate and had less impact on the coast.

When approving the town’s appeal, FEMA stated that “the engineering analysis data submitted in support of the appeal provides evidence that the alternate method for determining wave setup provides a scientifically correct estimate of the Base Flood Elevations for Long Beach.”

Bay State lawmakers have long been arguing that FEMA used the wrong formulas to determine the Massachusetts flood maps. Yesterday Congressman John Tierney, D-Salem, joined with other Bay State congressmen to demand that FEMA “suspend and amend” its new maps based on the Rockport decision, which they described as “precedent-setting.”

The Rockport decision could have significant impact for homeowners along the local coast — including Plum Island, Salisbury Beach, Newburyport’s waterfront and other low-lying areas along the coast and rivers. Hundreds of property owners found themselves placed in flood zones due to the new maps, which were first released a few years ago. Many communities, including Newburyport, have formally appealed the FEMA maps. The city focused its attention on riverfront land owned by Newburyport Development and successfully argued that the new maps were inaccurate for that area. The Newburyport Development land is located primarily between the Route 1 bridge and the city’s downtown waterfront boardwalk area.

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