Some Essex residents could lose, or be ineligible for, federal flood insurance after Town Meeting did not approve a Federal Emergency Management Agency update of Essex' flood plain Wednesday night, officials and some residents say.
Convening for a second night after a day's break from a four-hour Monday night session, Town Meeting shot down the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) update of Essex' Flood Plain Overlay District Wednesday night, rejecting it as Article 20 on the Town Meeting warrant.
The reconvened Town Meeting also voted not to purchase the former Lahey Building on Martin Street for town offices, but to provide money toward renovating the current Town Hall.
Article 20 would have updated the town's flood plain with the agency's latest maps, Town Administrator Brendhan Zubricki said Thursday. Municipalities across the nation are phasing in the language to stay part of FEMA's national flood insurance program, he added.
"It doesn't make sense," said town resident Cliff Ageloff. "The FEMA flood maps come out every 25 or 35 years. It's part of a national insurance system through FEMA. Why the town isn't participating makes no sense."
The vote, said Ageloff, was expected to be a matter of basic "housekeeping." It's a program for which residents already pay through federal taxes and, if a flood emergency is declared, he added, some residents could be in trouble without the coverage.
The program, said Zubricki, insures everyone in the country that lives within certain flood zoning. If you're in one of those zones, he said, you can't get flood insurance from a private insurance company.
"Failure to pass the article to adopt the new flood plain bylaw would mean the town could no longer be eligible to participate," he said.
Zubricki said the town's not in over its head yet. He said the town is preparing a Special Town Meeting to reconsider and vote on the bylaw again in June. The town has until July 3 to adopt the language if it wants to stay in the Flood Insurance Program. The meeting will have a public hearing in advance, he said.
The language, he said, is fairly standard. But some parts, said local attorney John Guerin, who tried to amend the bylaw during Town Meeting, could cause some confusion.
Guerin said the bylaw defines the flood plain boundaries with two documents — the 1986 Federal Flood Insurance Rate Maps and the 2012 Essex County Flood Insurance Study.
The reports, he said, define the flood zones differently, one with a 1 percent annual flood — or 100 year flood — plain; the other with a .2 percent annual flood plain, covering a 500-year flood, Guerin said.
The problem, he said, is that the regulations can restrict or prevent construction in certain parts of the flood plain. Having some confusion as to which plain the bylaw references, Guerin added, could result in someone not allowing construction where the old bylaw would have allowed it.
Guerin said he put forward an amendment that removed part of that language to simplify the flood plain boundary it was referencing.
"What I was trying to do is simplify that," he said.
Town Meeting not only shot the initial article down, residents also shot down Selectman Jeff Jones motion to reconsider it.
Guerin's amendment was ruled out of scope by the moderator, he said. Zubricki said Town Meeting voted on only the language in the article. FEMA and the Department of Conservation and Recreation, he added, may not have approved the bylaw with Guerin's change anyway.
Town Meeting also rejected an article that would have allowed the selectmen to purchase property for new town offices. The town was looking, said Zubricki, to buy the former Lahey Clinic Building on Martin Street. The town, he said, sent a motion for a debt exclusion override to pay for renovations at T.O.H.P. Burnham Library, the current Town Hall, to the election on Monday after removing language that referred to the Lahey building.
Zubricki said the town would need $600,000 for repairs that would improve the health, safety and working environment of the old town hall. Those repairs would go from drying the basement to putting windows in town hall doors to security installation to new phone lines and more.
But, he said, the repairs shouldn't cost enough to trigger new building code requirements for town hall.
"We don't believe this project will trigger that," Zubricki said.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.