Federal officials want residents and owners of businesses in the floodplain in The Valley and Washington County to be aware of changes underway to the maps used for determining flood insurance rates and of expected revisions to land use regulations pertaining to development in the floodplain.

New versions of the maps, known as DFIRMs (Digital Flood Insurance Rate Maps), are set to be adopted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 2010. The DFIRMs are the basis for flood insurance ratings for individual properties. The DFIRMs also determine which parcels may be subject to local regulation of development in areas subject to flooding and erosion by rising water, often called fluvial erosion. Local land use regulations for municipalities that participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) will also undergo revision in 2010 to bring them into compliance with new federal and state standards.

On Monday, July 27, FEMA hosted meetings in Waterbury to formally unveil the draft maps of the floodplain in Washington County that were released earlier this year. FEMA officials and representatives of firms involved with creating the maps explained in some detail how the current maps were produced. The map for Washington County is primarily a conversion of the existing inundation hazard data into a digital format.

Townspeople should review maps

While the Mad River was not subject to a re-study and the floodplains in the Mad River Valley communities were not redrawn, town officials were advised to urge citizens to review the maps for any errors in labeling, as well as possible inaccuracies in depiction of the floodplain boundaries that could have been introduced in the digitization process. A 90-day appeal period went into effect on July 27, allowing for landowners and communities to request corrections to the maps.

Individual landowners are encouraged to visit the town office to review the maps with respect to their parcels. In addition to checking for any errors in labeling or floodplain delineation, landowners may be able to determine whether changes could be in store regarding future development options on their parcels and/or how much they pay for flood insurance. The Waitsfield Planning Commission is currently drafting proposed changes to the bylaws to respond to the newly mandated standards, and will hold a public hearing later this year when that draft is finalized.

The zoning administrator in each town can provide assistance in reviewing the maps, answer questions about the new regulations under consideration, and identify state agency contacts to assist landowners in answering questions. They can also provide information about "grandfathering" rules that can result in lower flood insurance premiums for some customers.