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Town and Village

Flood plain changes vex town officials

NEWFANE—According to Merle Tessier, Newfane’s Flood Plain Administrator, Newfane’s tax maps need some updating, and this could prevent some residents from getting flood insurance or interfere with the sale of their property.

At the Jan. 4 Selectboard meeting, Tessier told the board that the town’s maps are deficient, because of their reliance on the state of Vermont’s flood plain maps. Because the state’s maps are not scaled to the Newfane tax maps, sometimes it is unclear whether a home is in the flood plain.

Because of this discrepancy, a few homeowners have already met with an unpleasant surprise.

Some Selectboard members noted the residents learn their properties may be within the flood plain when they try to sell them. When the state maps are consulted, the flood plain is revealed, and potential buyers are scared away from the sale.

Property owners may also find they can no longer get flood insurance for their homes. Tessier said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recently “changed the whole basis of their flood plain insurance.” Now, FEMA’s rules say the property “has to be actuarially sound.”

Tessier noted another issue with a property having its flood plain status changed: he cannot issue the owner a building permit if the structure is intended for a flood plain, unless a civil engineer certifies the property is flood proof.

With the town-wide reappraisal coming, Board Chair Todd Lawley is concerned many of Newfane’s properties could get devalued, and that will raise everyone’s taxes. He is also worried FEMA will simply not pay out any claims to Newfane on a future flood.

How much of a loss will the town suffer during the reappraisal, Lawley asked.

He asked Tessier if there was “a way around this.”

Tessier said property owners can contest their home’s flood plain status with FEMA, and he noted a resident recently found success with asking the agency for a variance.

But, he said, FEMA worded their finding “very carefully.”

“They granted the variance to her this time,” he said, “but when they come to readjust all the maps, she might find herself back in the flood plain.”

Vice-Chair Carol Hatcher suggested someone from the town contact FEMA for clarification. Her colleague Dennis Wiswall noted a lack of continuity in FEMA’s regional representatives — “they get rotated around” — thus making it difficult to build a working relationship or get consistent answers.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #340 (Wednesday, January 20, 2016). This story appeared on page C1.

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