Floodplain Management Program
State of Maine Risk MAP Business Plan
Maine’s floodplain maps and the data used to create them are exceptionally outdated. Maine’s property owners have spent nearly $3 million over the past 40 years to prove that their properties are not in FEMA-defined floodplains. If nothing is done to improve these inaccurate maps, they will cost property owners millions more. Other property owners, who are at risk of flooding, are not aware of the risk because their properties are incorrectly shown outside of the floodplains. Maine’s floodplain mapping inventory includes 8,609 miles of mapped floodplains. Seventy-one percent of these miles are designated as “unnumbered A-Zones”. These zones lack the engineering analysis and topographic detail needed to accurately show the floodplain. A staggering 160 Maine communities have maps that have never been updated. Further, no Maine communities have 100 percent of their floodplains mapped with scientific studies and high-resolution topographic data. Consequently, Maine has a substantial need to develop new science-based mapping. We need to “fix what we’ve got”.
Flood Map Modernization (Map Mod)
The FEMA Map Mod program, which operated from 2004 to 2009, began the process of updating floodplain maps in four of Maine’s sixteen counties. Oxford County maps became effective on July 7, 2009, and Kennebec County will complete the updating process in 2011. York and Cumberland Counties are still in process and the date for completion is uncertain. The initial premise of Map Mod was to convert flood insurance rate maps (FIRMs) to digital geographic information system (GIS) formats. Floodplain data was lifted from old maps and overlaid on more easily readable photographic base mapping. This made the maps much easier to read, but did not improve the accuracy of the maps.
Midway through Map Mod, FEMA also decided to improve some of the scientific data requirements. However, due to budgetary constraints these improvements were inadequate to meet the needs of Maine communities. While 119 communities have or will receive new maps as a result of Map Mod, updated scientific and topographic data was only provided in portions of 17 communities.
Flood Risk Mapping, Assessment, & Planning (Risk MAP)
Following Map Mod, Congress provided FEMA with funding to continue improving the nation’s flood maps under a new program called Risk MAP. The Risk MAP program is designed to be implemented on a watershed scale starting with an overall evaluation of “HUC 8” level watersheds. Maine has 21 HUC 8 watersheds. Geographically HUC 8 watersheds are typically smaller than an average Maine county.
The Risk MAP program emphasizes bringing outdated and invalid flood studies into compliance with scientifically-proven methodologies, including re-delineating floodplain boundaries using high-resolution topographic data. FEMA will use this new data to not only improve its floodplain mapping inventory, but also to develop new interactive mapping products for communities to utilize when communicating risk. These products require accurate topographic and scientific studies. The FEMA business model quantifies cost versus risk levels to determine how to prioritize new and revised mapping. Historically, when this type of qualifying criteria is used, however, Maine loses out to more densely populated areas of the country.
Because of Maine’s size and population, the cost of acquiring high-resolution topographic data and mapping over 6,000 miles of floodplain is intimidating. Planning level estimates indicate that the state needs $6 million to acquire high-resolution topographic data, another $12 million to fix the current mapping inventory and convert the data to a digital GIS format. Traditionally, rural towns of Maine are viewed as having low risk relative to other communities with much larger populations at risk from flooding. Consequently, the level of resources dedicated to improving maps has been limited.
During the Map Mod process, FEMA financed approximately $5 million worth of modernization to the floodplain maps in four Maine counties. If we assume that the Risk MAP program will provide a similar level of funding, we are still far short of what is needed to complete the mapping improvements.
The need for high-resolution topography is not limited to floodplain mapping. It is a product sought by many organizations, from private enterprise to all levels of government. Many federal agencies benefit from high-resolution topographic data: U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and FEMA are just a few. The Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) acquisition project initiated by the Maine GeoLibrary Board in 2010 with a $20,000 commitment grew into a $2.47 million project spanning all of the northeastern states. It proved the value of many organizations with the same need banding together for one common purpose. No less than 14 agencies participated in this LiDAR acquisition project. Many of these same agencies would be interested in new efforts to acquire high-resolution topographic data.
Key to the success of this project was the Maine GeoLibrary Board’s willingness to provide leadership and commitment of funds. Even though the financial commitment was small, this initial support was critical to attracting other sources of funding. Federal agencies cannot match each other’s funds; however, they can participate in local projects and partnerships that help them accomplish their goals.
Communities can also initiate projects with their neighbors by banding together under the leadership of county government in order to complete large projects that achieve economies of scale and are therefore more cost-effective. This is one area where county government can help communities achieve significant savings and help offset the impacts of countywide taxes. By initiating projects like this, Maine communities can attract more funding for improved floodplain mapping.
The expressed purpose of this report is to provide FEMA with Maine’s plan for floodplain mapping participation in the Risk MAP program. Traditionally Maine has provided very little financial participation in the mapping process. This needs to change. The substantial investments FEMA is making in remapping large sections of this state should be leveraged by Maine agencies to co-create greatly improved mapping that will benefit far more than just the Floodplain Mapping Program.
During the coming year this report will be circulated to state agencies, private sector, non-profits and our political leaders for their review and comments. As this process is completed we hope to develop a plan that will lead to stronger support of FEMA’s mapping program and new financial commitments from other entities with vested interests in improving the accuracy of mapping in Maine.
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