By Seth Daniel
New federal flood maps – set to be fully approved for Chelsea next month – could bring about quite an expensive surprise for homeowners in areas where flooding is probably the last thing on anyone’s mind.
Flood maps are reviewed and compiled by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), and have been in the process of being revised for several years. The maps this time, however, account for far greater coastal inundation by storms like Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina. So, there are far more areas that are now considered flood prone, including areas like Addison, Heard and Blossom Streets that were never in flood zones before.
Proposed flood maps for Chelsea include new flood areas such as the entirety of the Everett Avenue Urban Renewal District – including the Market Basket. It also includes streets on the other side of Rt. 1 like Addison, Blossom, Heard and Second Streets – including Chelsea High School.
It also now extends far into the industrial areas along Eastern Avenue – all the way up to the MWRA property.
“The new maps is a significant change from the previous maps that were in effect,” said City Planner John DePriest. “The use the new levels on coastal inundation like parts of the country got in Hurricane Sandy or in New Orleans. The old zones went out a couple hundred feet from the creek. It now extends over to the urban renewal area in Everett Avenue and on Eastern Avenue all the way to the MWRA property.”
Those expanded maps mean that anyone in the new flood plain – which goes before the Council on March 16 for approval – would now have to carry flood insurance – which can be very expensive.
For a residential home, some estimates indicate it could cost as much as $5,000 per year for those who now find themselves in the flood plain.
For places like Market Basket and other existing businesses, it means a very large, new bill to operate in places they have been for a long time.
“Insurance companies have begun to or will soon be sending the bills to property owners,” said DePriest. “The first thing is people should be talking to their homeowner’s insurance company. Getting federal insurance is much easier to find and less expensive than the market rate.”
He said they can also contact FEMA directly for discussion of the situation.
There is also a way to dispute the designation, particularly for homeowners on the fringes of the new maps. That is called a Notice of Map Change, and it would likely mean spending a few thousand dollars for a survey and proving one’s case.
“The burden of proof is on the homeowner,” he said.
For pending development, the new maps bring about some certainty and many new developments would have the advantage of being able to build around the problem.
For instance, an apartment building could eliminate the first floor of residences and put parking underneath. Other work-arounds are also available, such as raising the building threshold height.
“I don’t think it’s going to stop development,” he said. “It will add to the cost of it. Market Basket has more development plans down there. We continue to have discussions with Market Basket and they haven’t given any indication they don’t want to continue redevelopment on the site.”
The City did appeal the maps last year, and small changes were granted in that appeal, but the significant changes were kept in place.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said there was only so much the City could do to influence the federal government in such big policy decisions like this.
“We know it is expensive and what I can say is we appealed the maps, but at some point the city’s influence is limited,” he said. “We tried our best to prevent it, but this is the end result.”
Ambrosino said he hasn’t heard much from the public yet, but if there is an outcry, he would consider having a public meeting to address the new maps.
The Planning Board held a hearing on the maps Tuesday night, Feb. 23, at City Hall. Their recommendation sends the matter to the City Council.
An affirmative vote of the maps by the Council allows residents to participate in the federally-subsidized federal flood insurance program – which is still expensive, but much less than prices on the open market.