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Opinion

opinion | William Keating

Flawed science behind flood maps

the Federal Emergency Management Agency has released its new flood-zone maps for communities across the country, including Massachusetts. As a result, the Murphy family in Wareham is seeing their flood insurance premiums go from $500 to $5,000 a year. Anthony Frangie, a realtor on the South Shore, has seen multiple home sales fall through because the new flood-insurance premiums on homes in coastal communities are too high. Matt and Erin Rodenhiser of Quincy are a couple looking to buy a new home for their young family, but have had to walk away from homes they loved on more than one occasion simply because the newly inflated flood-insurance rate has priced them out.

Last year, the owners of Haddad’s Ocean Café in Marshfield renovated their restaurant to meet the then-current flood requirements, going above and beyond what was needed. Today, with the new maps, they must either pay millions of dollars for additional renovations to raise their building even higher or pay flood insurance premiums — upwards of $30,000 a year. And my office has received numerous calls from residents who are afraid they may lose their homes because their flood insurance premiums have increased by tens of thousands of dollars. These are just a few examples of the challenges associated with the new flood-insurance program.

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The maps and accompanying flood-insurance premiums are not only severely affecting homes — most of which are primary residences — and residents’ finances throughout the eastern part of the Commonwealth. They also have a negative impact on small businesses, the real estate market, and the entire local economy.

The challenge is not just about increased premiums coming at a time when many residents are still trying to make ends meet. Homes and businesses that were not in a flood zone under the old system have since been included; many of these structures are miles from the shore. Worse, these maps are not correct for our area, thus subjecting homeowners and small business owners to exorbitant flood insurance premiums when the science they are based upon is inappropriate for our state.

Last month, I requested an independent review of FEMA’s flood maps from an objective source. Dr. Brian Howes, a scientist from UMass Dartmouth’s School of Marine Science and Technology, and John Ramsey, an engineer from Applied Coastal Research and Engineering, agreed to conduct the review and used the Town of Marshfield as a test case.

Their findings indicate that FEMA applied an inappropriate methodology for our region when establishing the new flood zone maps. The methodology employed used the Pacific Coast model, which does not truly reflect flooding patterns found on the Atlantic coastline in New England. Flooding on the Pacific coastline originates from the continuous nature of the waves. On the other hand, flooding on the Atlantic Coast is most often the result of storms and surges.

While the difference between the Pacific and Atlantic coast’s flood patterns may not seem so important, they are critical to establishing the correct perimeters for flood zones and the premiums associated with them. Since the increased flood-insurance premiums were announced, many people have been discussing this challenge in terms of an affordability issue. With the release of findings by Howes and Ramsey, we have the first concrete evidence that the science behind these maps is not correct for our region.

FEMA needs to delay implementation of their new flood-zone maps until the appropriate methodology for our region is applied. Massachusetts residents shouldn’t be at risk of losing their homes because of a program that is designed to protect them.

William Keating is a US representative from Massachusetts.

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