Move to approve $20K for FEMA appeal falls short

from an article in the Portsmout Herald.

May 29, 2014 2:00 AM

KITTERY, Maine — The Town Council voted Wednesday night to support a $20,000 expenditure to appeal a federal floodplain map — only to have the vote successfully challenged by one councilor over the wording of the measure as it appeared on the agenda.

The action came following a public hearing on whether the town should spend the money appealing the Federal Emergency Management Agency preliminary floodplain maps for the town.

Robert Gerber, an engineer from Ransom Environmental Consultants in Portland, told councilors Wednesday night that Kittery’s flood maps “are among the worst I’ve seen.” Gerber was hired by the town to conduct a review of the preliminary FEMA maps. “They’ve redone some stuff and not done others. They have unreasonably high (wave) values in some areas. There’s a lot of confusion.”

Several residents urged the councilors to approve the funds.

“I happen to be one of the fortunate ones,” said resident Ken Lemont. He said a neighbor on one side of him is in the new floodplain and a neighbor on the other side is not, yet the elevation is the same for all three properties.

He said because the same problem has been identified in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, “one solution may be to go through the U.S. Senate.” Lemont said he’s twice contacted Sen. Susan Collins’ office.

In the meantime, “I would very much appreciate the town’s help. It benefits the entire town to have this map redone,” he said.

Affected property owner Don Craig reminded the council that if properties are placed in the flood zone, it will affect their assessed value as any buyer would have to pick up what are expected to be exorbitant insurance costs.

“This is for the common good of Kittery,” he said.

Last month, the town sent letters to owners of property identified as being affected by changes in the preliminary maps — more than 40 in all — and asked them to pitch in toward the cost of the appeal. Town Manager Nancy Colbert Puff told councilors 13 had responded, donating a total of $6,150.

Discussion among councilors indicated that some were conflicted over their vote, and whether it was appropriate for the town to spend taxpayer money to appeal maps that affect proportionately few property owners.

“I support protecting Kittery residents … but I’m not sure I’m going to support the $20,000 right now. I’m at odds over this,” said Councilor Charles Denault. “If you have Property Owners 1, 2 and 3, and if 2 pays but 1 and 3 don’t, they get a free ride.”

Councilor Jeff Pelletier said he would support it, but felt it was unfair for just a small number of residents to help out the town. Councilor Frank Dennett said he would not vote for it for precisely that reason.

But Councilors Jeff Thomson and Russell White made strong pleas in favor of the measure. The town itself owns two pieces of affected property, including Fort Foster, White said.

“I don’t think that we should be held hostage to whether or not we get a voluntary payment,” he said.

Councilor Judy Spiller, in supporting the measure, said it “seems like Russian roulette” not to set the money aside.

The council vote 4-2 in favor of the measure. But immediately afterward, Dennett said the vote was not legally cast. The item was brought as an emergency measure, under the section of the town charter cited in the agenda. It takes five votes to pass an emergency measure, according to the charter.

Thomson countered that the words “emergency measure” didn’t appear in the agenda item and therefore the vote was legal. But when a vote was taken in support of his position, it failed on a 3-3 tie.

It is expected the issue will be brought up again at the next council meeting.