Federal Flood Maps Could Sink Areas of Chelsea

Proposed new flood maps by the federal government could dramatically increase flood insurance premiums in Chelsea and require many businesses and residences – all the way to Everett Avenue – to carry new flood insurance policies.

The Planning Board will begin looking at the proposed Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood maps at a public meeting on Dec. 17 at 6 p.m., and it might not be a fun conversation – especially for the wallets of Chelsea residents.

“It’s going to cover a substantial part of the city now,” said City Planner John DePriest. “It’s going to extend well into the Everett Avenue area and into the industrial triangle on Eastern Avenue too. These are still just proposals and haven’t been adopted yet, but it is what they want to do.”

The new FEMA flood maps are a re-draw of maps produced just five to seven years ago – maps that at that time included a good deal of relief for some homeowners near the waterways. However, these new maps were required to be drawn with Global Climate Change and proposed sea level increases in mind. While no one is quite sure about what exact effect Global Climate Change will have on sea levels, FEMA adopted models that used data from Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Hurricane Sandy in New York and New Jersey – the so-called 500 year storm levels.

While most politicians in the area – such as U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Malden) – have made a career out of tailoring the government towards Global Climate Change theories, this particular change seemed to come back and bite them with unintended consequences.

Already, House Speaker Bob DeLeo (D-Winthrop) has sounded the alarm in his coastal districts of Winthrop and Revere and has carried that torch to Washington, D.C. recently to share his concern about what could happen in place like Chelsea, Revere and Winthrop.

DeLeo has told the Record that some residents in Massachusetts have gotten flood insurance bills recently that are as high as $38,000 for one year due to the new maps and an accompanying plan to discontinue subsidizing homeowners in flood-prone areas (part of the controversial Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 that all of the state’s Congressional delegation voted in favor of). He also said that homeowners in Chelsea, Revere and Winthrop could see increases in the thousands on their flood insurance bills.

“I have a very serious concern that if bills were to increase by this much or people were made to pick up new, costly flood insurance, that it could really affect the housing market in Massachusetts – which is just now coming back,” he said last month. “People only have so much in their budget, and we don’t want them not to be able to pay their mortgages just because their flood insurance bill has skyrocketed. I see it as having a dramatic effect on residential areas near the coast, especially.”

His trip to Capitol Hill late last month yielded some positive results, as the entire state Congressional delegation promised to move quickly in delaying any implementations of the FEMA maps or the Biggert-Waters Act. So, there is some relief in sight.

DePriest said those in Chelsea who already are in flood zones would not see any dramatic upgrades in their zone classifications – upgrades that could have cost them dearly.

However, he did say that some residents who carry flood insurance have already seen large increases in their bills due to the lack of a subsidy.

“I have already had a couple of calls from residents with some pretty serious concerns,” he said.

The major issue in Chelsea is the new areas that would now have to carry flood insurance – which include Everett Avenue, Eastern Avenue and two small areas near Mill Creek.

For Everett and Eastern Avenues – two major identified areas for major economic development – an expensive flood insurance bill could threaten to stifle the blockbuster growth that’s occurred on those corridors and is hoped to continue in the future.

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