Major Errors Found in FEMA Flood Plain Maps

Rochester conservation agent Laurell Farinon spoke the Planning Board at their meeting on the evening of Tuesday, May 8, to address many errors that plague the new FEMA flood plain maps, which must be adopted and accepted by the town in order for Rochester to be eligible for federal flood insurance assistance.  The maps go into effect on July 17 and if the town does not vote in favor of the maps, many residents risk paying much higher flood rates or losing their insurance altogether.

Farinon said that the new maps are basically enhanced versions of the older, less detailed maps, which were inaccurate to begin with.  According to Farinon, there are several instances where flood zone delineations just don’t make sense.

“Some of these issues have to do with zone lines bisecting hills, which water doesn’t do,” said Farinon.

Board member Ben Bailey, who described the maps as “fundamentally flawed,” revealed that his property is at the center of one of these trouble spots.

“The line that goes through my property goes up a 20-foot hill and back down again,” Bailey said. “You don’t have to be an engineer to see that this is inaccurate.”

He recently received word from his insurance company that they would no longer offer him homeowners insurance due to the changes in the new maps.  After inquiring about why they cannot simply raise his rate, the company said that Commonwealth law restricts them from implementing rate increases on home owners’ insurance, but allows for companies to drop a customer if they determine the area is too high of a risk.

The appeals process for suggesting changes to the maps is long gone, but residents who own property in any of these areas in question do have the option of filing for a reevaluation of their property, but would have to pay out-of-pocket for an engineering company to take measurements and make determinations.

“The onus is on the landowner to go out and prove FEMA otherwise,” Bailey said.

Farinon implored the community to check the maps, which are available in the public record, to see if they own any property in question.  She also said that there will be an engineer at the Annual Town Meeting later this month to answer any technical questions residents may have about the maps.

The errors could have far-reaching implications for the town of Rochester.

“The Planning Board, Conservation Commission, the building inspectors, they will all be using these maps,” Farinon said.  She also said she spoke to the Board of Selectmen at their meeting last night.

The next meeting of the Rochester Planning Board will be on Tuesday, May 22 at 7:00 pm.

By Eric Tripoli

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