Calls ‘flood’ in over flood plain fiasco

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

At the risk of a bad pun, calls are “flooding” in to Bridgton Selectmen from residents wanting to know why the town isn’t taking the lead role in challenging the new flood zone elevations proposed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Both Bernie King and Doug Taft said they’ve gotten numerous calls from residents asking if the town plans to help them mount an official challenge to new D-Firm FEMA maps delineating revised Base Flood Plain Elevations.

Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz said the information “is still evolving,” and acknowledged that the town does have a strong reason for ensuring that the maps are accurate.

“Our downtown is in a potential area that could be inundated by a major flood,” said Berkowitz, according to the maps. But he asked for residents to be patient, because much will depend on what the town learns from FEMA in a meeting on Jan. 8 that will be attended by Code Enforcement Officer Robbie Baker and Executive Assistant Georgiann Fleck.

Resident Glen “Bear” Zaidman questioned the fairness of changes that put the burden of proof — and the cost — on landowners. An elevation survey on Woods Pond cost $500, he said.

“Robbie is going to the meeting on Jan. 8 to find out how to protest this, if there is a way that doesn’t cost the town a lot of money. Flood insurance is very expensive,” said Zaidman.

The town of Scarborough has decided to formally advocate on behalf of property owners in their town, and have established a fund of $300,000 for that purpose, he said, but Scarborough has a great deal of valuable land on or near the flood zone. Berkowitz said he has not included any money in the upcoming budget to review the accuracy of the FEMA maps.

Insurance is significantly more expensive for property in the flood zone, and building restrictions are another reason why it is in a resident’s best interest to have their property excluded from a flood zone designation if possible, he said.

But the reasoning must be scientifically based, by hiring a licensed surveyor to plot elevations. Berkowitz clarified one misperception by saying that the 90-day comment period has not yet begun, but will begin some time in the spring.

He also said that a property owner has a better chance of convincing FEMA to exclude their land if he or she can show that their primary residence is not in the flood zone, even if a portion of their property is within the flood zone. “You have a better chance, but you still have to read the fine print (of home loans) as mortgage companies could still require flood insurance.”

Berkowitz promised to keep residents informed of any new information as it becomes available.

In a related matter, Bridgton Selectmen discussed a request by the Gilroy Trust to create a berry garden on either side of Corn Shop Brook on Depot Street. After Baker told the trust the land was in the Shoreland Zone, the request was withdrawn.

Berkowitz said the trust is still on track to create a community garden by leasing land on Park Street, where there is sufficient land beyond the 75-foot setback line to plant the garden. He also said that the existing community garden beside the Bridgton Community Center also appears to be within the setback limits, and does not need to be altered.

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