Bridgton put on alert to check accuracy of new FEMA maps

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Several residents of Beaver Pond in Bridgton are disputing recent changes in Federal Emergency Management Agency flood plain maps, but the town is taking a wait-and-see attitude before becoming involved.

“The onus is on the property owner,” said Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz on Tuesday, in updating selectmen on tentative changes in the FEMA flood zone maps published Nov. 5. He encouraged any homeowner living near a water body to come into the town office soon to see whether their property now lies below FEMA’s established Base Flooding Elevations. If so, it could sharply raise their insurance costs or restrict their right to develop or expand their property. The clock is ticking, Berkowitz indicated; FEMA is giving individuals, businesses and municipalities 90 days to appeal the revised Flood Insurance Rate Maps, which are scheduled to take effect in the summer of 2015, after appeals and final reviews.

The issue arose after Beaver Pond resident Bill Clark discovered that his home and three of the other four homes in his North High Street development were in the flood plain. Clark asked for the town’s help, and after looking into the matter, Code Enforcement Officer Robbie Baker agreed that the properties should not have been placed in the flood zone.

“I urge you to take a look at those maps, because what may not have affected you in the past, may now do so. And there’s a responsibility on the part of the property owner to refute this,” Berkowitz said.

Representatives from the town will be attending a FEMA meeting in January to go over the new FIRM boundaries and will then decide whether to become involved. “At this point, the town is not a lead appellant in any appeal, but will continue to monitor this issue and how it impacts our property owners,” Berkowitz said. Of particular concern to the town would be any changes to the flood zone in the downtown area. “We might want to fight that with our own engineering surveys,” he said.

In a letter to Berkowitz, Clark said he could find no record of prior appeals around Beaver Pond, so no Base Flooding Elevations had been established. But prior appeals on file for Moose Pond showed a BFE of 421.9 feet above sea level. With geographic maps showing Beaver Pond at 478 feet, and Beaver Pond emptying into Moose Pond, said Clark, “Moose Pond would need to rise some 56 feet before Beaver Pond would begin to flood.” Then, Beaver Pond would need to rise around 15 feet to reach the lowest homes in his development, said Clark. He said the revised map appears to have been produced using satellite imagery, and that after consulting with a FEMA official, that official agreed the map appeared to be in error. The official encouraged Clark to keep track of the town’s meetings with FEMA officials.

“Even though FEMA has stated that the map we are on would be changed before being finalized, we intend to stay on top of future developments,” Clark wrote.

 

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