By Ellen Oliver
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) updated the Flood Insurance Rate Maps for Stow, reshaping the areas considered in and out of floodplains. In a joint presentation with Bolton on July 29 at the Stow Town Hall, Stow’s Assistant Town Planner Jesse Steadman gave an overview of the detailed, and often confusing, issues related to the proposed maps.
Steadman explained that property owners who feel that their land is incorrectly included in the floodplain can challenge the new FEMA maps in one of two ways: the first is through the 90-day appeal period where FEMA accepts comments on general issues (such as methodology or errors in applying the methodology); and a second process through which affected homeowners can challenge how the maps effect their specific property by filing a Letter of Map Amendment with FEMA. While the map revisions are open to public comments for 90 days, with the clock starting on June 13, 2013, property owners can request a revision at any time.
While the Town will be collecting comments on the general methodology from residents and sending them to FEMA, Steadman said he believes ultimately the Town will approve the new maps. “It’s really a no brainer. The Town has to adopt them,” he said, explaining that not adopting the maps effects future resources and funding from FEMA.
To help explain the changes in the flood zones, the Planning Department created a map of properties showing how property lines overlap the proposed floodplains. Steadman explained that changes to the maps are based on the recalculation of the Base Flood Elevation (BFE), which is the elevation of the area of land that has a one-percent chance of flooding in any given year.
Of most concern to the audience was the way the new maps would effect specific properties. If a property is new to the flood zone, Steadman advised the owner to contact the financial institution affiliated with the property. “Some homeowners newly within a floodplain might receive a letter from their mortgage lender indicating they may be required to purchase flood insurance,” he said.
He added that if a property owner did not receive a letter from their lender, that doesn’t mean they won’t be notified when the maps are final. “Each lender seems to take a different approach,” he said, explaining that some lenders require owners to purchase flood insurance only if the structure is in the flood zone, while others will require it if the flood zone is just touching the parcel. “It’s important to understand their policy,” he said. Steadman also explained that when speaking with the mortgage lender, homeowners should be sure the lender is looking at the proposed maps since the ones currently on the FEMA website do not reflect the changes.
If a property owner wants to challenge their need for flood insurance by filing a Letter of Map Amendment, Steadman said, “The burden is on the homeowner to prove the home is out of the floodplain.” When filing a Letter of Map Amendment with FEMA, a homeowner must provide information from an engineer or surveyor to challenge the BFE and how it affects the property.
Questions from the audience included two first hand accounts from residents whose homes were designated to be in the floodplain several years ago. “I want to make sure everyone knows they [mortgage lenders] have the right to charge for flood insurance. It cost me time, it cost me money and I didn’t get resolution [from FEMA],” said one Bolton resident who unsuccessfully filed a Letter of Map Appeal. Another resident also went through the process and said her contractor handled everything with FEMA on her behalf. Steadman and the residents said the costs for a professional surveyor or engineer ranged from $800-$2000.
The Planning Department plans to have another meeting in the fall to discuss the issue in more detail. Steadman offered himself as a point of contact for questions and cautioned homeowners to understand the requirements from their financial institution before contracting with an engineer. “Before going and spending money on pursuing a map amendment, get in touch with your mortgage lender. A lot of people talk to an engineer first. It’s easy to get really worried,” he said.
For more information, visit the Planning Department’s page on the Town website or check out their blog at: http://stowplanning.wordpress.