The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is set to finalize new flood zone maps for the coastal areas of New England in the next few weeks. On many of these new maps, coastal flood zones are likely to shift, putting many commercial and residential properties in high risk zones. These changes will have a significant impact on individuals and businesses alike, as a property’s inclusion in a high risk zone can lead to restrictions on new construction and on expansions of existing facilities. In addition, inclusion in a high risk zone is likely to result in a significant increase in flood insurance policy premiums.
In the past, FEMA has received heavy criticism for its methodology in developing new flood zone maps. Many of the problems in FEMA’s methods stem from a lack of funding that prevents FEMA from utilizing the most accurate mapping processes. More sophisticated methods can generate significantly different flood zone elevations, and likely help to keep a substantial amount of land out of the riskier flood zones.
After preliminary maps are released, property owners and towns have a 90-day appeal window. During this limited time frame, those whose property has been moved into a high risk zone have the opportunity to argue against imposing the stricter flood zones by challenging FEMA’s methodology. Those wishing to appeal should determine whether their municipality plans to submit an appeal on behalf of the community. Also, in many cases, a community will collect individual appeals on behalf of its residents and submit a collective appeals package to FEMA.
When evaluating an appeal, FEMA will consider only scientific or technical evidence. After FEMA issues a final decision on an appeal, property owners will have 60 days to pursue a further appeal in federal district court.
If the 90-day appeal window is missed, property owners may still pursue a revision to the finalized maps. However, this process does not allow for the same amount of negotiation as the appeal process discussed above.
FEMA will be releasing maps for many towns in Maine today, September 16, 2013. Maps for other communities throughout New England will follow soon after. For some communities, preliminary maps have already been finalized and the appeal clock has begun to run. Those wishing to appeal should move quickly, as assembling the required information is a time consuming process that involves, among other things, hiring an expert to review a community’s coastline.