WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following a conference call with officials in several coastal Cumberland and York County communities today, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has just announced that it will "withdraw the current proposed (flood) maps and terminate the current appeals process."
At the request of Senator Susan Collins, who is Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, which has oversight of FEMA, FEMA officials have been working closely with these Maine communities to rework proposed flood maps. Today, FEMA announced a new initiative aimed at improving the process, called Risk Mapping, Assessment and Planning (Risk MAP). According to FEMA, this new program provides communities with flood information and tools they can use to enhance their mitigation plans and better protect their citizens. Through more accurate flood maps, risk assessment tools and outreach support, Risk MAP builds on Map Modernization and strengthens local ability to make informed decisions about reducing risk. Satisfied that Maine communities have agreed in principle to transition to this new process, FEMA has agreed to withdraw the current proposed maps and terminate the appeals process.
"It is clear that FEMA is listening to the concerns of Maine’s communities and residents," said Senator Collins following today’s conference call. "This latest announcement from FEMA means affected coastal communities in Maine will have the time to continue working closely with FEMA to produce accurate flood maps for the region."
In a letter that Senator Collins sent to FEMA Administrator Fugate on September 23, she 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.
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
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.