Flood Insurance Rate Maps and Flood Hazard Zoning Bylaws

What’s a Flood Insurance Rate Map?

Flood maps show how likely it is for an area to flood. Any place with a 1% chance or higher chance of experiencing a flood each year is considered to have a high risk (This is sometimes referred to as the “Hundred Year Floodplain”). Those areas have at least a one-in-four chance of flooding during a 30-year mortgage.

Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) show the extent of this “Base Flood” (the area of inundation that is the basis for the insurance program). The area of the base flood is regulated by the community as the legal “Special Flood Hazard Area” (SFHA).

The original maps for Addison County municipalities are available at https://msc.fema.gov/portal/home (These maps were digitized in 2006 by ACRPC but are not official FEMA products)

What’s a Flood Insurance Rate Map for?

Flood Map adoption is required for participation in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP)

  • Flood insurance is required if a person has a loan or mortgage on a structure that is located in the high risk FEMA-mapped floodplain.
  • Such insurance is required regardless of whether a community participates in the NFIP. (Private flood insurance may or may not be available)
  • When joining the NFIP, a community agrees to, at a minimum, regulate land development that is located in the FEMA-mapped floodplain, known as the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA)

Municipal Zoning– Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA) are often the basis of Flood Hazard Overlays (FHO)

  • Municipalities may also adopt River Corridor protections in their zoning to provide protection from fluvial erosion

Post-Disaster (ERAF) funding

  • Enrollment in the National Flood Insurance Program helps raise state post-disaster damage reimbursement by 12.5% and River Corridor protections raises state reimbursement by another 5%.

Other FEMA funding eligibility  (e.g. at-risk property Buyouts)

What's Changing about the Flood Maps?

FEMA is currently updating the Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) in Vermont for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). This will be the first map update for many towns since the 1980s.

What's the Process?

A Discovery Meeting for the Lake Champlain and Otter Creek watersheds was held on October 29, 2019. The towns then had 30 days to provide FEMA with additional information that would help prioritize areas to study across the watershed. The results of the process were provided in a Discovery Report.

  • New detailed flood study for the New Haven River – from confluence with Otter Creek to approximately 2400 feet upstream of confluence with Cota Brook in Lincoln (18.1 miles).

FEMA will coordinate with Chairs of Select Boards for both a County-wide Work Map Meeting and a Community Consultation Officer Meeting (CCO) to share Preliminary FIRMs and Flood Insurance Studies.

FEMA will also set up an Open House meeting for the public to discuss the new maps, the flood risk they show, and how people can secure flood insurance and protect their buildings.

During the following Work Map stage, minor issues, such as labeling errors, can easily be corrected by communicating them to your FEMA representative. For substantial errors or surprises, the Town may formally appeal the data within 90 days. The town will usually need to provide higher quality data to supersede FEMA’s preliminary data.

Once any appeals have been resolved, FEMA will notify the town of an Effective Date (at least six months later) for the new maps, with a Letter of Final Determination. Maps go into effect for an entire county at once.

When the new maps go into effect, FEMA requires that town bylaws meet current standards for participation in the NFIP. If your bylaws are not sufficient, residents will no longer be able to purchase nor renew flood insurance through the NFIP.

Now is the time to update your bylaws!

Zoning Bylaw Updates

The Planning Commission should draft new/updated bylaws.

NFIP has specific language requirements, including in the Flood Hazard Overlay section:

  • Reference “most current” flood insurance studies and maps
  • In Development Standards, include “No net loss of flood storage capacity”
  • Define the “Design Flood Elevation”- sets Lowest floor 2 feet above flood water (the “Base Flood Elevation”)

Model Flood Hazard Bylaws are available for adoption

Consider adopting River Corridor bylaws (Not required for NFIP, but recommended)


Next Steps

Here are some ideas for what steps to take next:

  • Join the Flood Resilience Listserv to get updates on new developments in flood resiliency and to share what’s working in your community.
  • Review your current Town Plan and current Zoning Bylaws.
  • Speak with your Regional Floodplain Manager and your Regional Planning Commission.

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