South Bethany prepares for first FIRM appeal update


South Bethany planned to review the first round of scientific results this week as it decides whether to appeal its flood insurance rate map (FIRM).

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) gave the Town until Jan. 20 to appeal maps that have been unpopular since they were first publicized in 2014.

South Bethany Town Council has hired the Woods Hole Group (WHG) consulting firm to manage the appeal. The first WHG report of preliminary data was to be released publicly on Nov. 18 so residents could voice their opinions at the Nov. 19 workshop, where WHG would telephone to explain the results.

Town Council requested this update, in case the data doesn’t even seem worth developing a plan of attack. If Town Council approves on Nov. 19, WHG will strategize the best way to file an appeal. In December, Town Council would vote on whether to submit that appeal to FEMA.

By Nov. 19, South Bethany will have paid about $9,000 for scientific research and modeling. That day, Town Council will vote whether to pay about $3,800 for WHG to write the appeal. WHG will charge up to $10,600 for filing and additional support.

In all, South Bethany could pay Woods Hole Group up to $23,360 total. Town Council agreed to fund and lead the appeal, using the environmental consultant that property owners had previously selected.

Resident Tim Shaw said that some residents are concerned about the fuzzy line where council may not think the appeal is worth pursuing, but residents might think it is.

“Stay vocal with them,” Mayor Pat Voveris told Shaw at the Nov. 13 Town Council meeting. “Everything done with this appeal is going to be done in a public session,” where the public can ask questions and comment before council votes.

Councilmember Wayne Schrader asked if residents would want the option to appeal as individuals even if the council doesn’t move forward. Some might, but others aren’t prepared to pay that cost, Shaw said.

But Saxton wanted a way for property owners to feel supported if they do move forward.

If residents want to challenge FEMA’s future decision on the appeal, their names must be on some original paperwork.

But “the Woods Hole Group would not entertain us adding [individual homeowners] to the contract,” Voveris said.

Council suggested that people submit their own appeals (which must still be processed by the Town), but simply copy all the ideas from the Town paperwork. Basically, a person could submit her own FEMA appeal, citing all the information in the Town’s appeal for evidence.

“We’re filing a document. Anyone can come in and file an appeal that incorporates by reference [that document],” Schrader said.

Town Solicitor D. Barrett Edwards IV suggested running this idea by WHG, since they’re writing the document. But Schrader said this appeal document will belong to the Town.

An appeal must show a legitimate technical basis for arguing that the calculations are not correct, Shaw said.

If WHG can propose a methodology that would decrease the flood risk by even a few inches, it may be enough for FEMA to round down to 12 feet, or less.

In a conference call earlier that day, WHG clarified some details with Shaw and several councilmembers.

“Listening today, I think we’re going to get something,” Saxton said, and Voveris agreed.

(Notes from this conference call are online at www.southbethany.org/bboard.php.)

The Woods Hole Group picks their battles, so it “has surprisingly high rates of success,” Shaw noted in October.

Resident Ed Bintz was frustrated that the residents no longer have primary control of the WHG contract. He said he’d encouraged WHG to remove the council check-ins from the contract.

“How would you ever think we would take over an appeal [without having a say]?” Voveris said.

“I don’t think there’s a real commitment to this,” Bintz concluded.

“We’re gonna have to agree to disagree,” Councilmember Frank Weisgerber said.

“I would say there’s nothing we’ve done where you should feel you should distrust your government … we were responding to what we [felt the people wanted],” Voveris said. “We govern for the town, and that’s our total interest.”

Town council (Carol Stevenson absent) shot down suggestions for a formal appeal committee, due to time constraints and public meetings at every decision point in the process.

After the meeting, Bintz’s concerns became a moot point. Bintz received full copies of the audio and written minutes, and he determined that he previously heard incomplete details about the October workshop.

“I understand why the town did what it did,” Bintz concluded.

The Oct. 22 minutes show that Shaw invited Town Council participation: “Mr. Shaw said since it would be the Town spending Town tax money obviously we expect the Town to supervise this. … he thinks the owners would ask that the process going forward even if managed by the city and the Council would be open and transparent.”

In other Town Council news:

• Charter and Code Committee may be reexamining permit fees to determine if the cost is adequate for the Town’s work, Schrader said.

• Sue Callaway reported that the new Assawoman Canal Trail exceeded her own expectations. “It’s fabulous. I did it last week. I was surprised at … how nice it is.”

• There is talk of a Town-sponsored art show at York Beach Mall, Callaway reported.

• George Junkin will be petitioning the State to clean the Anchorage Canal forebay, collects Route 1 storm water runoff from northern South Bethany, Middlesex Beach, Sea Colony and the southern tip of Bethany Beach.

Town Council’s next workshop is Thursday, Nov. 19, at 2 p.m.