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Welcome to the Flood Zone!

A nationally distributed resource for those interested in flood zone issues, land surveying, real estate, history, and educational opportunities. If you no longer wish to receive this newsletter, simply click the unsubscribe link in the footer of this message.

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In this Issue of Welcome to the Flood Zone:

Upcoming Speaking Engagements: The Maine & New Hampshire Beaches Conference
Announcement: Elwood Ellis, Maine P.S., is Presented with a Distinguished Service Award
Resources: Local, Regional, and National
Real Estate Corner: "Help Protect Your Customer's New Home"
Flood Q&A: What factors should be considered when choosing a suitable location for coastal development?
In the News: "Climate Change Research, Flood Mapping Funds Take Hit in Proposed Trump Budget" and "How Rising Seas and Coastal Storms Drowned the U.S. Flood Insurance Program"

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Jim Headshot

Message from Jim

On December 22, 2014, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) established The Office of the Flood Insurance Advocate (OFIA) to advocate "for the fair treatment of policyholders and property owners by providing education and guidance on all aspects of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), identifying trends affecting the public, and making recommendations for program improvements to FEMA leadership". The four primary focus areas of the OFIA are flood insurance, flood hazard mapping, floodplain management, and Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) grants (FEMA, 2016). To date, two annual reports have been prepared.

In December 2015, the first report presented five issues: 1) the lack of actionable and timely data available to the Federal Insurance & Mitigation Administration and the OFIA, 2) Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) barriers, 3) the application of the HFIAA surcharge, 4) limitations for the issuance of prior-term refunds, and 5) the need for more information pertaining to flood proofing certification and credit (FEMA, 2015). The December 2016 report presented an additional six issues: 6) erroneous severe repetitive loss property designation, 7) gaps in flood insurance agent education, 8) public mapping outreach consistency, 9) ICC difficulties, 10) multiple and conflicting flood zone determinations, and 11) the inability to refund a HFIAA surcharge on a cancelled policy (FEMA, 2016).

Of the eleven items, #10 (multiple and conflicting flood zone determinations) is the issue we cross paths with most. Though I understand the importance of the mandatory insurance requirement for loans secured with collateral which have a high risk of flood damage, weaknesses in the flood determination process do exist. When a bad determination is made, the impact on a real estate transaction or on actual value can be substantial, often resulting in a continued bitter taste for the program.

Let’s first start with eliminating several misconceptions about what makes a “bad” determination. Being scaled in a flood zone but having no flood damage for many years does not mean it is a bad determination; having no flood insurance policy in place and flood damage occurs, does not necessarily mean a bad determination; even living at the top of a hill and having mandatory flood insurance does not automatically mean a bad flood determination has been made, as it could indicate “inadvertent inclusion” due to the weaknesses of the map. In my opinion, a flood determination should be renamed “horizontal flood determination” for immediate acknowledgement that no elevations have been used. This would aid the concept of bringing elevations into the equation and help to eliminate the requirement of many homeowners paying mandatory flood insurance due to an “inadvertent inclusion”. Items #7 & #8 would help with this process. Most importantly, determinations should be made only from an approved NFIP mapping product, such as a Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM).

flood map

The above image is a screen shot of a municipal website's "flood zone overlay". Clearly, the mapped flood zone does not align with the actual water course.

My concern with a bad flood determination pertains to the quickness and cost (typically less than $20) of the initial flood determination which is often made by entering a physical address into a database, without an actual site visit, and without use of the proper mapping product. Of course, a site visit for each determination is not practical, but when a lender's flood determination conflicts with ours, we dig right in to identify the cause of our differences. We have come to a common conclusion, that either municipal GIS, preliminary DFIRMs, a digitized version of the paper map, or another product was used since we obtained a different answer when directly scaling from the paper FIRM. Overlaying a digitized paper map into GIS does not make for an improved solution because more current technology is being used. In fact, it probably produces more error.

It is actually not uncommon for a flood layer to not even be aligned with the watercourse in GIS (see photo). We have even sent a sketch with actual distances from intersections shown on the applicable flood map for further review by the flood determination company (FDC) without success in changing their determination. As well, when searching for a property using online mapping platforms, or Google Earth, typing an address does not always bring you to the actual subject property.

Though a Letter of Determination Review (LODR) is an option available to a property owner to appeal a lender's flood zone determination, a fee is required, and can take approximately 45 days for a determination. This is a process worthy of consideration, but this time frame places much strain on a real estate transaction. In my opinion, a FDC should welcome input from qualified licensed professionals who have made physical measurements at the subject property. In the past, we have been successful in getting FDCs to change a determination, but it has been over ten years since this last occurred.

I personally welcome input from the FDC community to better understand their process, policy, and requirements when a determination may be incorrect, with intention of aiding the program in reducing or eliminating multiple or conflicting flood zone determinations. Risk is real, and protection through insurance is reality, but providing quality product and service to the public needs to remain a high priority.

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2017-beaches-conference-logo

Upcoming Speaking Engagements

July 14 - The Beaches Conference, Wells High School, Wells, ME

Registration is now open, so *register now!*. Registration fees will increase by $10 after July 5th!

The 2015 Beaches Conference sold out.

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elwoodret

Announcement

Elwood Ellis, Maine P.S. accepts his “Distinguished Service Award” from Roy Shrewsbury, West Virginia P.S. (left) and Skip Harclerode, Maryland P.E. (right) at the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying® Zone Interim Joint Meetings, Northeast/Southern Zones, April 27-29 in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.

In the short time I have attended these meetings as a delegate, the respect which Elwood has within the council is very obvious and well deserved. He has served on many committees through the years and has played an extremely important role in reaching important council goals. Maine is proud to have you!

Thank you Elwood!

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Resources

maine hazard map

Local

Maine Flood Hazard Map

This interactive web map contains the most current digital FIRMs accepted and approved by FEMA, and Q3 Flood Maps, a layer of digitized flood zones from the old, approximate data. It should be used with confirmation from the official, printed FIRMs.

Click here to open the mapping program.

region1

Regional

FEMA Region 1 Risk Analysis Division

The Risk Analysis Branch works toward identifying the scope of all natural hazards affecting New England and assessing the risks associated with those hazards.

Click here to learn more!

placemat

National

The National Flood Mapping Program

The Association of State Floodplain Managers created a cool infographic placemat to explain how the Program benefits all communities and all taxpayers, not just NFIP policy holders and people in high-risk areas.

Click here to download a PDF of the placemat.

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Real Estate Corner

Help Protect Your Customer's New Home

Flood risk and flood insurance are important topics that homebuyers should consider early in the home buying process.

FEMA created a fact sheet that provides realtors with important information about flood risk and flood insurance, and a guide for how to better communicate this sometimes complicated topic to their customers in a way they will understand. It details the basics about flood risk, flood insurance availability and policy options (including low cost options), high-risk flood area requirements, and resources for both realtors and consumers.

Click here to download a PDF of the fact sheet.

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coastal development

Flood Q & A

Q: What factors should be considered when choosing a suitable location for coastal development?

A: Several considerations should be taken into account when choosing to build in high-risk coastal areas:

▪ The geographic region or area determines the hazards to which a property is exposed.
▪ Existing erosion control structures indicate prior erosion, and these should not be assumed to protect future development.
▪ Vulnerability of a coastal building generally increases with time (gradual deterioration, sea level rise, shoreline recession, etc.)
▪ Future development activities on nearby properties may affect vulnerability of buildings on any given property.
▪ Lots may not be suitable for the purchaser's intended use.
▪ Land use, zoning, setbacks, public health regulations, floodplain management, building code, and related requirements generally determine development densities, building size and location limitations, minimum design and construction practices, and allowable responses to erosion hazards; however, compliance with these requirements does not ensure future safety of the building or development.
▪ Many historical practices are inadequate by today's standards and changing shorelines could render those practices obsolete.
▪ Property selection, along with siting, design, construction, and maintenance decisions, determines the vulnerability of, and risk to, any building or improvements.
The geographic region or area determines the hazards to which a property is exposed.
Existing erosion control structures indicate prior erosion, and these should not be assumed to protect future development.
Vulnerability of a coastal building generally increases with time (gradual deterioration, sea level rise, shoreline recession, etc.)
Future development activities on nearby properties may affect vulnerability of buildings on any given property.
Lots may not be suitable for the purchaser's intended use.
Land use, zoning, setbacks, public health regulations, floodplain management, building code, and related requirements generally determine development densities, building size and location limitations, minimum design and construction practices, and allowable responses to erosion hazards; however, compliance with these requirements does not ensure future safety of the building or development.
Many historical practices are inadequate by today's standards and changing shorelines could render those practices obsolete.
Property selection, along with siting, design, construction, and maintenance decisions, determines the vulnerability of, and risk to, any building or improvements.

Coastal Construction Manual, FEMA P-55, Volume 1, August 2011

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In the News

Climate Change Research, Flood Mapping Funds Take Hit in Proposed Trump Budget

By Christopher Flavell, Insurance Journal, May 24, 2017
"President Donald Trump's first budget request to Congress would cut or eliminate a range of programs designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well [as] those helping communities prepare for more intense flooding or hurricanes expected to result from climate change."

"The Trump administration argues that those services [flood risk mapping program] mainly benefit communities at risk of flooding, and so the cost should be paid locally. The $190 million program would be eliminated under its plan."

Read more!

How Rising Seas and Coastal Storms Drowned the U.S. Flood Insurance Program

By Gilbert M. Gaul, Yale Environment 360, May 23, 2017
"Sea level rise and more severe storms are overwhelming U.S. coastal communities, causing billions of dollars in damage and essentially bankrupting the federal flood insurance program. Yet rebuilding continues, despite warnings that far more properties will soon be underwater."

Read more!

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June Flood Funny

june flood

Cartoon by Nick Anderson, April 20, 2016

 
 
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