Portland, Maine, officials are mounting a political effort
to fend off a proposed new flood zone map for the city's
coastline. Under the new map, most of the city's developed
waterfront would change from an "A" zone to a "V," or
"velocity," zone. By implication, that would mean a drastic
change in the kind of development and construction allowed
along the waterfront, and in the type of repair or rebuilding
that would be allowed (or paid for by insurance) in the event
of any flood damage in future storms.
The Portland Press Herald story
FEMA threatens harbor construction," by Tom Bell) quotes
Penny St. Louis Littell, the city's planning director: "We will
be left with dilapidated, continually decaying structures and a
waterfront where nobody can rebuild." The Herald has also
posted a simplified
map of the newly determined flood zone.
Flood zone maps are tied to insurance premium rates for
flood insurance under the National Flood Insurance Program
(NFIP), which offers virtually the only insurance coverage
available for flood damage. Federal regulations established for
the NFIP allow coverage only for properties in communities
where development and code regulations meet federal standards
— meaning limitations on construction, along with
strict codes that require flood-resistant building details.
Littell argues that the NFIP regulations are unsuited to an
urban waterfront like Portland's, and were originally intended
to apply to other types of geography. "We are not a community
of mega-mansions on sand dunes that will be washed away in a
coastal storm," Littell told the Press Herald.
But a FEMA official counters that the agency's job is just
to evaluate what the water might do, not to consider the
economic implications of any particular characteristics of the
map. Said David Mendelsohn, "Our job is to map risk and
identify that risk and put it on the map as best we can."
Congress has tasked FEMA with a comprehensive upgrade of
outdated flood zone maps around the nation, using advanced
surveying and mapping technology. But with limited funding
available, the job is proceeding in a piecemeal fashion. For
more information on FEMA's reworking of the flood maps, check