WASHINGTON – Just eight days after Senator Susan Collins requested the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to withdraw and rework proposed floods maps for portions of Cumberland and York counties, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate has offered to do so. FEMA told Senator Collins of the decision in a phone call today, pledging increased collaboration with affected communities to help ensure that revised maps appropriately reflect the risk of flooding along Maine’s unique coastline and establish a comprehensive strategy to mitigate flood risks.
Senator Collins, who is Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has oversight of FEMA, sent Administrator Fugate a letter on September 23 expressing concerns about the mapping process.
“This is the right decision,” Senator Collins said Friday. “I am pleased that Administrator Fugate responded to my request that FEMA listen to the concerns of Maine’s communities and residents, and that he offered to withdraw FEMA’s proposed maps, ending the current appeal process and committing to work with local officials to produce accurate flood maps for the region.
“The economic consequences of the initial flood maps could have been devastating, particularly in the current economic climate. That is why I was so disappointed when FEMA published proposed flood maps on September 2, 2010, that did not reflect the most up-to-date data provided by several cities and towns in Cumberland and York counties.”
In her September 23 letter to Administrator Fugate, Senator Collins wrote that the failure to reflect local information in the proposed flood maps had “placed local communities and residents in the untenable position of appealing maps that FEMA already knows will require modification ….[I]t is unfair to ask these municipalities and residents to shoulder the costly and time-consuming burden of drafting appeals against maps that FEMA knows do not represent the most accurate scientific and technical data.”
Accurate flood maps allow communities to make informed decisions about economic development, emergency preparedness and response, and how structures can be built to withstand or mitigate the consequences of flooding. For businesses or home owners, these maps provide crucial information about their properties, informing owners who choose to build or stay in flood-prone areas of the increased risk.
“When flood maps are inaccurate, however, these benefits are lost – and replaced with inappropriate restrictions on investment and community development, coupled with expensive flood insurance requirements,” said Senator Collins. “The inaccurate ‘velocity zone’ designation originally proposed for Portland Harbor, for example, would have prevented investments the City had been planning in the area, restricted businesses from repairing or upgrading existing buildings and structures, and stifled a working waterfront so key to the City’s culture, heritage, and vitality.
“Flood maps must be based on solid science, using the most accurate technical and historical data,” said Senator Collins. “I will continue to work with affected communities and concerned residents to help ensure that FEMA meets its obligation to work collaboratively to produce flood maps that accurately reflect the flooding risks to Maine’s rugged and unique coast.”
Today’s decision by Administrator Fugate follows months of negotiations among the agency, affected Maine communities and Senator Collins’ office. When initial notifications of affected towns proved faulty, Senator Collins organized discussions between FEMA and City of Portland Officials that produced a revised, scientifically accurate flood map for Portland Harbor.
“It is imperative that FEMA work to re-create this process with other communities along the Maine coast, and I believe the process outlined by FEMA today will do just that,” said Senator Collins. “While additional discussions with FEMA may not lead to revisions of all proposed maps, a collaborative process that allows both FEMA and affected communities to discuss fully the applicable technical and historical data will improve existing maps and help avoid a litigation-style appeal process that undermines trust and imposes significant costs on local residents.”
In her letter to Administrator Fugate, Senator Collins argued that applicable law “does not limit the Administrator’s discretion to withdraw proposed maps that he knows do not accurately represent flood risk, and as a consequence, unfairly shift the burden to state and local officials and residents to re-prove the inaccuracy of the published maps. Given these unique circumstances, I ask that you exercise your discretion under the law to withdraw the proposed flood elevation determinations and allow a collaborative process to proceed prior to the re-publication of new proposed flood maps for Cumberland and York counties. I also ask that FEMA consider different flood risk models that more accurately reflect risk to Maine’s coastline before re-publication.”
FEMA published preliminary flood maps for the towns of Portland, South Portland, Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, Harpswell, and others on September 2, 2010. This publication initiated a statutory 90-day appeal process. Administrator Fugate’s decision allows FEMA to re-initiate the mapping process using a more collaborative method that combines flood mapping with risk assessment and mitigation planning, thereby providing a comprehensive, strategic approach to flood risk management.
The full text of Senator Collins’s September 23, 2010, letter follows:
The Honorable W. Craig Fugate
Federal Emergency Management Agency
500 C Street S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20472
Washington, D.C. 20472
Dear Administrator Fugate:
I wanted to thank you, Region I Administrator Don Boyce, and your staff for working so diligently with Maine residents and local officials to evaluate the accuracy of proposed flood maps for Cumberland and York counties. The economic consequences of revised flood maps can be quite dramatic and devastating, particularly in the current economic climate. It is vitally important that these flood maps reflect all the information available to FEMA, are based on the most accurate scientific data and modeling, and provide residents and local officials with a sound basis for appealing FEMA’s proposed flood elevation determinations.
As we learned over the last year, the rugged coastline of Maine, with its many inlets, bays, and harbors, and surrounding islands, presents significant challenges to the production of flood elevation determinations that accurately reflect scientific, technical, and historical flood risks for those areas. Flood plain models that may work well for locations with sandy shores that face the ocean and bear the full brunt of ocean winds have proven inaccurate, in many instances, for Maine’s coast.
Given these challenging and unique conditions in Maine, it is critically important that FEMA and state and local officials proceed with the map update process in a collaborative fashion before shifting the burden of proof to local communities and residents in a flood map appeal process that can be perceived as daunting and litigation-style. Collaboration in advance of publication can help produce proposed flood plain determinations that fairly allocate burdens between FEMA and local communities. Indeed, when a flawed notification process provided FEMA and the City of Portland with additional time to carefully consider the scientific, technical, and historical data for Portland Harbor, the collaboration helped produce proposed flood elevation determinations that were based on the most accurate science and better reflected flood risks for that area.
That is why I was so disappointed when FEMA published proposed flood elevation determinations on September 2, 2010, that did not reflect the most up-to-date data provided by the cities and towns in Cumberland and York counties prior to that date. Many communities and local residents spent thousands of dollars preparing this data and presenting it to FEMA. That the proposed flood elevations did not reflect this information has placed local communities and residents in the untenable position of appealing maps that FEMA already knows will require modification. And, while the Region I staff have been very accessible to local officials and residents, it is unfair to ask these municipalities and residents to shoulder the costly and time-consuming burden of drafting appeals against maps that FEMA knows do not represent the most accurate scientific and technical data.
Although the law prescribes limits on the relief that can be granted during the course of an appeal of a proposed flood elevation determination, it does not limit the Administrator’s discretion to withdraw proposed maps that he knows do not accurately represent flood risk and, as a consequence, unfairly shift the burden to state and local officials and residents to re-prove the inaccuracy of the published maps.
Given these unique circumstances, I ask that you exercise your discretion under the law to withdraw the proposed flood elevation determinations and allow a collaborative process to proceed prior to the re-publication of new proposed flood maps for Cumberland and York counties. I also ask that FEMA consider different flood risk models that more accurately reflect risk to Maine’s coastline before re-publication.
Thank you in advance for your attention to these issues.