Monday, June 14, 2010

Before the flood

Bangor Daily News: The city of Portland recently prevailed in a showdown with the Federal Emergency Management Agency over a new map that would have classified part of the city’s waterfront as a high-risk flood zone. That’s good news for the city. But given factors such as climate change and the predictions of higher sea levels that come with it, and a hurricane cycle that is likely to bring a big storm to the Northeast in the next few years, FEMA’s capitulation may prove to be a devastatingly shortsighted move.

Last year, FEMA had the entire harbor in the high-risk flood zone, which would have prohibited new construction along the waterfront and stopped reconstruction of any buildings that had 50 percent or more destruction. The buildings in the flood zone also would have paid higher insurance rates. More recently, the FEMA designation was reduced to just the end of the Maine State Pier, which the city owns. That designation remains, but it will not affect the city’s efforts to redevelop the pier.

Portland was the first New England city to face the new mapping, which FEMA is undertaking along the entire East Coast. Other Maine coastal communities have faced updated FEMA regulations in recent years, and at times, the agency was inflexible. And its rules resulted in odd development outcomes, such as rendering the ground level of some buildings unfit for habitation.

Though science drives the mapping decisions, there is, of course, a political component that comes into play when the new rules are dramatically more restrictive, as was the case in Portland. Both Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Chellie Pingree worked on behalf of Portland to get the less restrictive map. And the question that remains is if — or when — a storm like the so-called perfect storm that clobbered the southern Maine coast in 1991 hits Portland and causes extensive property damage, will FEMA officials be saying, “We told you so.”…

The Old Port in Portland, Maine, shot by PhilipC at, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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