New federal flood maps have made it difficult for some Rhode Island property owners to sell, insure or rebuild their houses, but state officials say the maps still understate how vulnerable beachfront communities are to future storms.
Returning to unresolved concerns first expressed in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council this fall has renewed its call for a re-evaluation of the new flood maps for Washington County.
The council sent letters in August and October to the Federal Emergency Management Agency asking the federal agency to consult with them on whether the maps conflict with the state’s federally approved coastal-management policies.
“We have a number of concerns with the techniques and data used,” Grover Fugate, executive director of the CRMC, told Providence Business News. “The flood elevations near shore are actually being lowered from previous estimates in some places, and we believe that there are errors in modeling.”
Specifically, Fugate said there are problems with the models used to calculate the power of wind and waves driven by severe storms right along the state’s south-facing beaches. (Much of the debate about the new flood maps has involved inland or Narragansett Bay neighborhoods.)
Those alleged errors include estimating coastal wind speeds based on inland readings, underestimating the size of the ocean swells in Block Island Sound and overestimating the protection beaches will provide in deflecting those swells.
These concerns come roughly a year after Fugate first wrote to the consortium of companies that helped redraw the flood maps for FEMA.
“This is particularly important now as we have suffered extensive damage along the Rhode Island south shore from [Superstorm] Sandy,” Fugate wrote in a Nov. 4, 2012 letter to FEMA about the maps. “Our concern is that even in moderate storms, we experience a total loss of dune systems that is not reflected in your models. Dunes are an important first line of defense, providing a natural storm buffer.”
In February, FEMA brushed off the state’s concerns, writing that the only way the maps could be appealed would if they were found to be “scientifically or technically inaccurate,” which it said they were not and restated the procedures used to make them.