A number of property owners are finding their land now falls within the federal, 100-year floodplain. But they are not really in any danger, according to a state official.
However, the recent expansion of the floodplain may be hard on local property owners’ pocketbooks.
Richard Zingarelli, program manager for the Flood Hazard Management Program, which is part of the Department of Conservation and Recreation, sent a letter to selectmen Chairman Dan Kowalski last month confirming a 2014 visit by one of his staff members.
Based on observations and a meeting from last June, it was determined that “there appears to have been some recent development in the 100-year floodplain as delineated in Andover’s Flood Insurance Rate Map.”
The letter said that “It is important that proposed projects are reviewed to determine if they fall within the 100-year floodplain. ... Based on discussion during the meeting, review procedures seem thorough in Andover.”
Building Inspector Chris Clemente and Conservation Commission Director Bob Douglas were a bit mystified by the letter.
“I met with the guy a year ago,” Clemente said. “The only place I can think of (in the 100-year floodplain) is Atria Marland Place. They are doing extensive renovations there. But it was thoroughly reviewed before it was permitted.”
Douglas said that based on the letter, “Andover is properly regulating” work in the floodplain.
“Any work that goes into the floodplain, the developers have to file a permit and it is evaluated so it doesn’t push water somewhere it doesn’t belong,” he said. “I couldn’t think of any examples of work we’ve done in the past.”
Zingarelli said the letter was more or less a formality acknowledging the visit by his staff member and confirming that Andover is, in fact, closely monitoring activity in the floodplain.
“It’s a pretty standard letter,” he said. “We periodically, in our role as state coordinator, meet with communities and review procedures, to make sure they are doing what they are supposed to be doing under the National Flood Insurance Program. ... The town is meeting those requirements.”
He said development is allowed in the flood zone as long as it’s within local, state and federal guidelines.
“We allow development in floodplains as long as it’s done to certain standards — so the floors are high enough and won’t be damaged, that sort of thing,” he said. “The fact there is development in the floodplain is not a problem.”
However, it does come with risk.
The Balmoral condos in Shawsheen Square, for example, have had “some pretty serious flooding” in the past few years. Washington Park, also located along the Shawsheen River, is vulnerable to flooding as well.
“They have been looking to see what they can do to help protect them, maybe putting up a berm or other methods to protect the property,” he said. “There are areas along the river, most of them developed long ago, where they would not be allowed to build the same way. The standards today would be different.”
The new flood maps may also place some properties in the flood zone that weren’t there in the past. He said in those cases, the owners of those properties may be forced to purchase flood insurance.
“If you already had insurance, premiums don’t necessarily go up, due to grandfathering,” he added.