July 12--PEABODY -- It ain't broke, but a federal fix in identifying flood plains for flood-prone areas provides a new tool to property owners -- easy-to-read maps, available online.
The Flood Insurance Rate Maps not only tell you if your property is in a flood plain but also indicate how likely the land is to be hit by floods.
That's no small thing for homeowners and homebuyers in communities like Peabody, which has been devastated by periodic floods.
"We definitely have quite a few people who carry flood insurance," City Planner Blair Haney said.
The Planning Board will meet tonight to adjust its zoning to conform with the program.
"They've changed the definition of a flood plain," Chairman Jack Creeden said, so the city code needs to be replaced by the one approved nationally.
"It just brings us into conformity with federal regulations," Creeden said.
In practical terms, that won't alter the city's zoning very much, if at all. Failure to pass it, however, carries penalties, including no flood insurance for Peabody residents, no federal grants to deal with flooding, no disaster assistance after flooding, and no federal mortgage or loan guarantees in areas prone to flooding.
Marblehead has already approved the change, according to Town Planner Becky Curran. "We just had to do it."
Again, the measure changed little, but the new maps are a big improvement.
"Before, it was very difficult to tell if your property was in the flood plain," she said. "The new maps are much better."
The maps show a region, rather than isolating a single town or city, and the various flood-plain districts are divided according to their tendency to flood.
"On the map," Haney said, "you go to a key, and that key will say something like, 'One percent chance of flooding.' ... It's now an easier tool to use."
One new wrinkle -- terms like "100-year flood" are no longer used.
Most communities have completed the process of adopting the changes, meeting a deadline of July 3. Technically, Peabody did its part when the Board of Health adopted the new policy prior to that date.
The Planning Board must recommend making the appropriate change in zoning, following tonight's public hearing, and that must be approved, in turn, by the City Council.
Former mayoral candidate Russell Donovan plans to attend tonight to raise concerns that "they're deleting (from the bylaw) a lot more than is required for updating the map." Assurances from public officials notwithstanding, his overriding concern is the possibility that changes will free areas for development that have been off-limits.
The flood-plain maps can be reached at the Federal Emergency Management Area website.
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