Gouldsboro homeowners coping with new floodplain guidelines

GOULDSBORO — The Landis brothers were as thorough as they could be when they built their summer retirement homes side-by-side on the Corea Road.

They had their nine-acre site surveyed to determine the best possible location for the two-story houses and also had the property surveyed to ensure they built above the floodplain.

Both residents of Pennsylvania, David Landis spent the first summer in his home in 2002. Stan’s home was ready to move in the following summer.

The base flood elevation at the time was 13 feet. That elevation is the height at which a building has a 1 percent chance of flooding in any given year.

The base flood elevation varies from property to property and might even be at different heights for the same piece of land.

The brothers built their houses above the base flood elevation by at least 2 to 3 feet.

However, changes to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maps due to go into effect in July 2015 now show both their houses are in the floodplain.

The change requires homeowners with federally backed mortgages to buy flood insurance — which could be very costly.

The price has not yet been determined, but thousands of dollars in insurance premiums in other newly mapped floodplain areas have given homeowners near cardiac arrest.

The Landis brothers say they are not sure what course of action they should take.

“First, you wonder what you should be doing,” said Stan.

“Then we talked to the bank,” said David.

“We’ve just scratched the surface,” said Stan.

“The only communication we have received is from the selectmen,” said David. “They’ve done a good job.”

Gouldsboro selectmen have asked Robert Gerber, senior scientist with Ransom Consulting Engineers and Scientists in Portland, to determine if the town has the basis to appeal the new maps.

Stonington has done the same, as have York and Cumberland counties in southern Maine.

Gouldsboro selectmen say waterfront homeowners on Paul Bunyan Road in Corea, for instance, have never filed a flood claim although many of the properties are now, according to the FEMA maps, in the floodplain.

Chairman Dana Rice said he is concerned the new designations will create a hardship for owners and devalue the properties — which account for a substantial portion of Gouldsboro’s tax base.

Sue Baker, Maine’s national floodplain insurance program coordinator, said the new maps are based on a “snapshot in time” and do not take into account climate change or sea level rises.

Instead the mapping reflects potential storm surges caused by intense winds that whip around a hurricane and push water toward the shore.

The revisions are part of FEMA’s effort to update flood maps for 350 coastal counties nationally, incorporating new technology and engineering models.

The maps are intended to take into account topography, water depths and wind speeds, among other factors, to determine which areas are at risk for flooding so severe that it may come only once in a century.

Baker said her “hottest tip” to worried homeowners whose properties will be in a floodplain as of July 2015 is to buy flood insurance now before the new maps go into effect.

“It’s particularly important if they have a federally backed mortgage,” she said. “You are effectively grandfathering yourself out of the zone.”

Baker said buying flood insurance before the new maps go into effect would allow homeowners to renew their policy at the preferred — out of the floodplain — rate for two years.

“Lenders are not going to look at their maps until after the maps go final,” she said. “Then they will send a letter saying you have 45 days to secure flood insurance.”

If homeowners wait until the FEMA maps go into effect, “they are going to have missed their opportunity to secure that preferred risk policy,” Baker said.

She said she is not sure what category a home will fall under following the two-year renewal period, but said FEMA is considering keeping those homes under a somewhat preferred insurance rate.

The appeals pending in York and Cumberland counties mirror one filed by Plymouth County in Massachusetts.

Baker said Congress has established a scientific review panel to determine if the methodology used by Ransom consultants is scientifically sound.

The methodology used for the appeals is now under review by a scientific review panel created by Congress, she said.

Jacqueline Weaver

Jacqueline Weaver

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
Jacqueline's beat covers the eastern Hancock County towns of Lamoine through Gouldsboro as well as Steuben in Washington County. She was a reporter for the New York Times, United Press International and Reuters before moving to Maine. She also publicized medical research at Yale School of Medicine and scientific findings at Yale University for nine years.[email protected]
Jacqueline Weaver

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