An enhanced aerial image shows the estimated contours of the new floodplain that appears to extend into the backs of buildings on Main Street in Rockland. Official Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) that will show precise contours of midcoast flood zones are expected in late January, followed by a 90-day period for property owners to contest new designations. - BASE Image courtesy rockland code enforcement
An enhanced aerial image shows the estimated contours of the new floodplain that appears to extend into the backs of buildings on Main Street in Rockland. Official Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) that will show precise contours of midcoast flood zones are expected in late January, followed by a 90-day period for property owners to contest new designations. - BASE Image courtesy rockland code enforcement
Starting with hurricane Katrina, the past decade of extreme weather-related disasters almost bankrupted the National Flood Insurance Program. In 2005 alone, the program paid out $17.7 billion in claims. Superstorm Sandy is likely to cost far more.

In 2012, the U.S. Congress passed a flood insurance reform act to make the program more financially stable and allow the government to continue to offer federal flood insurance for five more years. The reform affects midcoast property owners in two ways: the 20-year-old flood maps are being updated to reflect the current and mostly expanded risk of flooding, and the federal subsidies that lowered insurance rates on older properties that were grandfathered into the flood insurance program are being phased out. In Maine, the phase-out will affect 36 percent of properties with flood insurance.

Flood Map Changes Challenged

The rough drafts of the new flood maps, which are now located at municipal offices in the midcoast, indicate that some properties that were outside the flood zones are now inside and will be required to abide by strict flood building codes and to purchase flood insurance if the property is mortgaged.

That looks to be the case on Main Street in Rockland, where the backs of most of the buildings from Rockland Cafe to Fiore appear to be in a flood zone for the first time, if the rough draft is accurate. The existing flood zone that runs from FMC on Tillson Avenue, includes Lermond's Cove, then runs up to Prock Marine on Front Street has been upgraded from mild to hazardous.

If that designation sticks, insurance rates will go up and any new buildings or additions will have to be built on columns or pilings so the foundation is at least one foot above flood level.

Changes are likely in small towns, too. In St. George, including parts of Hooper Island that show a flood level on the rough draft that is over six feet higher than existing maps, vacation homeowners are likely looking at a loss of their subsidies and a rate increase because of increased flood risk. Another example is Turkey Point on the St. George River, which has been upgraded from a mild flood zone to a hazardous zone in the new map, with an estimated three- foot vertical rise in flood level.

The rough draft maps are considered unofficial. Official preliminary maps will be sent to municipal offices in late January or early February. At the same time, letters will be sent out to affected property owners.
At that point, if a property owner thinks the designation is inaccurate, they will have 90 days to submit a request for a change, which they must back up with information provided by a licensed surveyor or professional engineer.

Camden and Rockland town officials aren't waiting for the preliminary maps to arrive and have hired a professional engineer to assess the accuracy of the rough drafts.

Rockland Code Enforcement officer John Root questions whether the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), who oversees the flood insurance program, collected enough data to make accurate flood zone determinations. He pointed out that Lermond's Cove, where the windjammers berth, is considered quiet water and is not subject to the three-foot-high breaking waves indicated in the draft maps.

The drafts also show an increase of over six vertical feet in extreme storm wave impacts in the area that runs from the side of FMC that faces the bay to the city's Middle Pier. Root also finds that puzzling. Was the old map that far off, or is the new one inaccurate?

"Don't get me wrong," said Root. "I am really happy to have updated maps. I just want them to be accurate."

Feds to Stop Subsidizing Flood Insurance

New flood maps are only part of the change under the new law. A second step is to eliminate federal subsidies by phasing them out over time.

Those who own their properties outright can ignore the new flood insurance requirements, at their risk, but those who hold a mortgage in a designated flood zone are required to buy flood insurance, and for almost everyone that price is going up.

Of the 9,300 Maine properties that currently have flood insurance, 36% of policies are on older buildings that are currently eligible for subsidies, according to Sue Baker of the Maine Floodplain Management Program. In the midcoast, subsidies will be eliminated on 109 of the 265 flood- insured properties in Knox County. In Lincoln County, subsidies will be eliminated on 128 properties, or about 25 percent of flood-insured properties, and in Waldo County, subsidies will be eliminated on 80 policies, or just under 50 percent of all flood-insured properties in the county.

Starting this fall, rates will rise by 25 percent a year until premiums reflect the real calculated risk.