ANDOVER — Bonnie Marston of Andover learned a very expensive lesson from the Federal Emergency Management Agency this year about the inaccuracy of maps.
In July 2009, FEMA and the Maine State Planning Office created better maps for the National Flood Insurance Program, and some homeowners in Oxford County, including Marston, had their properties listed as being in a flood zone.
"Our property has been in the family since 1824 and to our knowledge has never flooded," Marston said.
Mortgage companies are mandated by federal law to require a flood insurance policy for any building in a flood zone.
Maine's floodplain maps are outdated and, according to the State Planning Office, Maine’s property owners have spent nearly $3 million over the past 40 years to prove that their properties are not in FEMA-defined floodplains.
Diane Perry, vice president for Franklin Savings Bank in Rumford, said only two options are available to homeowners: Pay for the insurance, or request a letter of map amendment from FEMA.
Each of these steps can be an unforeseen cost to a homeowner and cause various headaches along the way.
Marston's parents, Jim and Glynda Childs, who rely on Social Security, purchased an acre of land on which to build a home. When they learned about the new maps and floodplain they also learned flood insurance would cost approximately $3,200 extra a year on their home insurance policy.
"That's not something they had planned for or could afford," Marston said.
She helped her parents apply for a letter of map amendment but had to pay for a surveyor to evaluate the elevation of the property so it can be removed from the floodplain map.
"On average, someone could pay between $800 to $1,000 for a surveyor," Perry said. "About 95 percent of the applications for a LOMA we see come across our desk are approved. That goes to show the maps are flawed."
Joe Young, floodplain map coordinator for the State Planning Office, said all maps tend to have a 10 percent chance for error.
"Part of the problem was for years the state's mapping programs have been underfunded," Young said. "We are using very old maps and overlaying them with photographic-based mapping that only amplifies the existing errors."
According to the state of Maine risk map business plan, the state needs $6 million to acquire high-resolution topographic data, another $12 million to fix the current mapping inventory and convert the data to a digital GIS format.
Young also added that in any flood, 25 percent of homeowners who apply for disaster relief are not in a designated floodplain zone to begin with.
"Mapping is not exact and you can't estimate what mother nature is going to do," Young said.
Perry said most of the time insurance companies will reimburse a homeowner once their letter for map amendment is approved and many surveyors will give discounts if multiple homes are involved.
According to Young, an amendment to the Floodplain Insurance Program is circulating through Congress to reimburse any homeowner who can prove their house is not in a designated flood zone. Although with FEMA's and the government's current budget shortfalls, Young isn't optimistic it will pass.
For now, Marston waits to see if her letter is approved and hopes to contact her state representatives to push the issue.
"I keep hearing horror stories from other homeowners. This isn't right and it should be fixed" she said.