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In five months, new federal flood hazard maps for New London County will take effect, and homeowners in or near flood zones are being urged to view the maps now and, if necessary, buy flood insurance before the bank holding their mortgage tells them to.
"It could be cost-effective to buy a policy ahead of the map change," said Diane Ifkovic, environmental analyst with the state Department of Environmental Protection who oversees the National Flood Insurance program for Connecticut.
Local town halls have large paper versions of the new maps, which will be available digitally on FEMA's Map Service Center website by July 18. The new maps replace ones issued in 1984 that were far less detailed and accurate. For the new maps, better data on average precipitation and hydraulics - the structures and landscape features that control water flows - was used, said David Mendelsohn, FEMA risk analyst. Data from last spring's flooding was not used, because it occurred after the drafts were completed.
Homeowners in coastal, riverfront and other flood-prone areas are advised to contact their town halls and make arrangements to see the new map with their property.
"We'll go over the maps with them," Mark Wujtewicz, Waterford planner, said Friday. About 25 homeowners have already done so, after reading a legal notice.
He and other local officials said a relatively small number of properties will see any change. In one example in Waterford, a few lots on Daniels Avenue and Beach Street along the Niantic River are now shown to be in a higher flood risk area than previously. The town, Wujtewicz said, had no disagreement with FEMA's conclusions on which areas were most flood-prone.
"There's nothing that sticks out as being absurd," he said.
Ifkovic and officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency's New England office said once the maps take effect July 18, banks will check them and could require any mortgage holders who appear for the first time in areas identified as flood-prone to get insurance. It could work the other way, too - a property shown in a flood zone in the old maps, from 1984, could be out in the new version. Federal flood insurance typically costs $600 to $2,000, Ifkovic said, depending on the size of the house and whether it's located on the coast or inland.
"Some people may find their flood risk is greater or less than it was previously," said Lauren Palik of FEMA's flood plain management and insurance branch.
The new maps use aerial photographs that show individual streets and houses with flood zone markings superimposed. Areas with the highest hazard are shaded to connote they have a 1 percent chance of flooding in any given year, and those with a lower flood risk as having a 0.2 percent chance of flooding in a particular year. (The percentage system replaces FEMA's 100-year and 500-year flood designation terminology.) The maps also single out coastal areas vulnerable to flooding from wave action during storms.
Joe Larkin, the zoning enforcement officer for Stonington, said the new maps are much easier to use in trying to determine whether a particular property is in a flood zone. He estimated that 95 percent of the properties in his town that were in a flood zone before are still in one, but "a few are out of it, and others that had been considered to be out will be in. Those are the ones who really need to be aware."
The Lord's Point section of town, he said, is among areas seeing the most change.
Tom Sanders, Montville zoning officer and flood plain administrator, said in comparing the old and new maps, he has seen only a few parcels where the flood zone markings have moved, and none of the changes affect homes. Like other towns, Montville is now in the process of revising the language in zoning regulations so that it will match the new terminology used in the new maps.
In Groton, the Poquonnock Bridge neighborhood along Midway Oval is one that may benefit from the new maps. In the old map, it was in the highest-risk flood zone, but now it's in the lower category.
The opposite happened along parts of River Road in the Mystic section. The high flood-risk zone moved inland from the old maps to cover a slightly larger area. Pearl Street, previously in the low-risk zone, is now in a higher-risk area.
In Old Mystic, the old maps leave out most of Whitford Brook and the surrounding areas. In the new one, the brook is shown, with land on both sides in the high risk flood zone.
Matthew Davis, manager of planning services, said the town notified dozens of homeowners who might be affected by the map changes. About 150 turned out to a meeting to learn about them, so he's confident most residents are aware who need to be.