NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

September 18, 2008

Appeals possible with FEMA flood risk zone maps

By Angeljean Chiaramida

SALISBURY — For the 250 property owners whose flood insurance rates could rise as a result of a proposed new flood risk zone insurance maps, there is a 90-day appeal process that will go into effect once public notification appears in local papers.

But proving the Federal Emergency Management Agency's updated maps are faulty and the flood zone designation of property is erroneous isn't easy, and the reasons for appeals are limited.

FEMA's community outreach specialist David Mendelsohn told selectmen recently there are two reasons for appeals. Appeals must indicate the scientific methodology upon which FEMA based the new flood zone designations is incorrect, or that FEMA's scientific methodology was applied incorrectly.

Appeals concern the base flood elevation on the maps and must be made in writing with scientific data supporting the appeal's claim, according to the document "Appeals and Protests, Information for Community Officials" found on FEMA's Web site www.fema.gov.

According the "Appeals and Protests" document, if perceived problems with the new maps do not include base flood elevations, it is considered a protest. Protests include issues like "roads and road names, corporate limits, floodway limits and floodplain boundary delineations," according to the FEMA document.

Town Manager Neil Harrington believes there are protest-level errors on the newly proposed flood zone maps, and he encourages people to send any they find to his office at Town Hall. Town officials will coordinate everything they receive and file appropriate documentation with FEMA, he said.

For property owners who believe their property has received an incorrect elevation level on the map, a Letter of Map Amendment can be filed, Mendelsohn said. However, a certificate of elevation from an appropriate professional consultant must accompany the letter, which must include supporting data and documentation proving the submitted certificate of elevation is valid.

FEMA will respond to and resolve all appeals, protests and letters of amendment prior to presenting the final flood zone insurance map to town officials for approval, FEMA officials said. Once approved by the town, the maps go into effect and may affect flood insurance premium rates for those with or who will purchase flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program.

FEMA officials have proposed and estimated date of June 2009 as the time when the entire approval process should be complete in Salisbury, the first community in Essex County to undergo the updating of the flood risk maps for NFIP.

Although 755 property owners in Salisbury have NFIP flood insurance, the decision to purchase flood insurance isn't always voluntary. Banks can insist property owners have flood insurance if they hold mortgages on their properties.

According to FEMA officials, Salisbury ranks 16th in the state for the number of repetitive loss properties, with approximately $4.1 million in claims paid from the NFIP to Salisbury property owners since 1978.

As of this June, the 755 flood insurance policies purchased by Salisbury property owners offer $136.8 million in coverage, with payments of $572,055 in total annual premiums. Although some pay more and some less, the current average premium for flood insurance in Salisbury through NFIP is $757 per year. That could change when the new flood risk maps are approved.

If Salisbury did not participate in the NFIP, property owners would be forced to buy insurance from the private insurance market, which can be much higher than that offered by the federal government.

More information on appeal and protest procedures or on the FEMA flood risk zone maps can be found on www.fema.gov, or www.floodsmart.gov.