FEMA officials attend meeting to hear arguments against the accuracy of new flood maps

GORHAM - FEMA officials assured attendees they would take into consideraton all information presented to them at the meeting held in Gorham December 5, on the new flood control maps, which, according to FEMA officials, must be accepted by the towns by February 20.
The first step will have to be to determine whether the information and concerns are valid FEMA official David Mendelsohn said. Then we'll have to have a discussion as to what might happen next, as there are no appeals left in the process, but FEMA officials didn't seem convinced the information submitted would change anything major. Minor changes could be make through a process called the Letter of Map Change Process.
Among local officials attending were: Gorham Selectmen Bill Jackson, Milan Selectman George Pozzuto, Shelburne Selectman  Stanley Judd, Gorham Planning Board Chairman Mike Waddell, Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier, Berlin, Town Manager Patrick McQueen, City Planner Pam Laflamme, Berlin Fire Chief Randall Trull and Superintendent of School SAU 20 Paul Bosquet.
The process of updating the floodmaps began well over a year ago. In May 2011 preliminary maps were released and public information meeting held. This past spring a 90 day comment period was held, ending May 3, 2012. On Aug. 20, a Letter of Final Determination was issued. The towns and cities affected are then given a six-month compliance period to do the necessary changes to town ordinance and to accept the maps.
Wednesday's meeting was led by Zeb Killion, congressional alliance liason for FEMA Region One. In addition to the FEMA officials on site, Mark Seidelmann, FEMA contractor/engineer for Coos County flood maps and Fay Rubin, also an engineer on the project were present via teleconferencing.
Officials were asked if any appeals were filed during the 90 days appeals period. Only a few, they said, and they concerned things like the name of roads being wrong. No scientific data showing errors, required for changes was submitted.
Opposition seemed to come mainly after the August 20, letter. A meeting was held on September 5, at Berlin City Hall attended by interested property owners, FEMA officials, and officials from the N.H. Office of Energy and Planning.
As a result of that meeing the city council decided to ask the state's Congressional delegation to review the process used to determine the new floodplain maps. The city also invited the Milan and Gorham selectmen to attend. Grenier said he doesn't believe FEMA gave enough weight to the flood control provided by dams already on the river.

Several of the topics brought up at that meeting were also brought up Wednesday, including Grenier's concern  
Seidelmann was asked if the owners of the dams north of Errol had been contacted regarding their flood practices. He said he did not have that information for this meeting. But he said they had 99-years of readings from the guage on the river in Gorham, as well as long time readings from a gauge in Errol. He also said they had requested information from dam owners, concerning size, and what's done in a flood. Most, he said, rely on a flashboard system.
Puzzoto said he's always been impressed at what dam owners can do for water retention in a big event. Often they are able to draw water levels down in anticipation of a big event, and that has had a big mitigating effect on communities.
Waddell asked if FEMA had discussed changes in these dams made over the last 100 years that might mean better control. But Seidelmann said there had been no signicant change in data in 99 years at the Gorham gauge.
Many took issue with FEMA's contention that the flood on April 1, 1998 was not a 100-year event, but a 50-year event. Tied in with that was Waddell's contention that FEMA data for Gorham village was just plain wrong. He submitted photos and detailed data to make his argument.
"There are places were the maps are very accurate, but in the center of town there's some kind of mathematical error," he said. "The photos are a reality check. If I were the engineer, I'd be looking for something wrong."
Waddell submitted a detailed report, panel by panel, identifying what he felt was wrong.
In the end Waddell said he would submit his data and photos to Seidelmann to review. What will happen if something significant is found is unclear, as the appeal process is done and FEMA officials said they had little leeway with the six-month compliance period.