Landowners in Maine’s two most populous counties should take heed: the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) prepares to roll-out updated preliminary flood insurance maps for Cumberland and York counties. FEMA announced Monday it plans to issue revised flood hazard maps on April 14. This is consistent with the state’s map adoption schedule, indicating a Spring 2017 release.
Home to more than a third of Maine’s population, Cumberland and York counties are among the last counties in Maine scheduled to receive updated Digital Flood Insurance Rate Maps (DFIRMs). In the fall of 2010, FEMA withdrew a 2009 preliminary map update for the counties after a deluge of homeowner and municipal appeals challenged the accuracy of the preliminary maps. Updates for both counties were subsequently issued in November 2013, but the map finalization process was put on hold as an independent Scientific Resolution Panel (SRP) considered the accuracy of similar mapping data utilized in Plymouth County, MA. .
Expansion of the number of property owners required to carry flood insurance is only one of many potential consequences of revised floodplain maps. Any shift of coastal special flood hazard areas (SFHAs) further inland and upland could stymie development rights of existing property owners, impede land-sale transactions, limit the ability of property owners to expand existing structures, or force landowners to elevate existing structures above the base flood elevation (BFE) depicted on the maps.
In an article published in the New England Real Estate Journal, available here, two Verrill Dana colleagues outline the options available to property owners after preliminary FEMA flood maps are released. An effective action plan to challenge the accuracy of the FEMA flood maps starts by recognizing that a 90-day comment/appeal window can commence almost immediately after preliminary maps are released by the agency. Coastal communities often hire an engineering consultant and attorney to represent the collective interests of their community; however, property owners may also seek independent legal counsel and engineering expertise to ensure individual property rights are protected.