3 Things Every Mainer Can Do Today to Protect Historic Buildings Against Floods

This article is a part of our Leaning Into Change series. Topics are meant to inspire conversation leading up to our 2016 Summit in Waterville. Registration is now open.  Follow along with #GrowSmartME. 

We recently talked with Roderick Scott, Flood Hazard Mitigation Specialist and Technical Educator, from the International Association of Structural Movers (yes, that’s a thing!). Roderick will be speaking at our 2016 Summit in Waterville on the topic of federal flood policy changes and global changes in climate that threaten downtown revitalization and historic preservation.

Aside from being brilliantly passionate about the risk that floods bring to downtowns located along waterways, Roderick is also a resident of Louisiana – a  state affected by nine hurricanes in the past 11 years. Roderick shared that Maine is facing a similar challenge as most other places in that “The oldest and most valuable, irreplaceable buildings are along the waterways.” 

According to FEMA, floods are the the number one natural disaster in America.

In preparation for Summit ’16, Roderick shared three basic steps every Mainer can take today to determine his or her property’s flood risk. 

1. Find out if your property is in the flood zone.
“Properties, aside from providing the vital places within our towns, also provide the tax dollars needed to serve citizens. Roughly 60 cents of every property tax dollar is spent on programs like schools.” Roderick shared this fact and a tool online from FEMA. Simply type in your address here, and it shows maps (including interactive ones!) of the various floodplains. FEMA is routinely updating all flood maps across the United States and more properties will come into the floodplain, requiring property owners to obtain flood insurance.

2. Find out if your property has an elevation certificate.

Elevation certificates allow you to determine if your building is built high enough to be out of the flood zone. “For towns like St. Petersburg, Florida,” Roderick shared they have some “20,000 buildings in the flood zone.” Each building within the flood zone should have an elevation certificate. These days, most realtors will not put a piece of property on the market without an elevation certificate. FEMA again has a great free tool regarding Elevation Certificates and the proper process for obtaining one for your home or building. The National Flood Insurance Program also has a great risk assessment tool here.

Fort Kent 2008 downtown flood – via Bangor Daily News

3. Find out if there is an inventory of floodplain buildings.

Within most towns in Maine, citizens know each building by its features, former uses, or names. For protection purposes, it is important that an ongoing record is kept of buildings as they come into the floodplain. As sea level rise and climate change continues, more and more buildings will come into the floodplain. By documenting these buildings, it helps us protect what we love most about our town’s history while also preparing for climate change. Roderick poignantly put it that moving old buildings from within the floodplain and preparing our towns for climate change is “one of the greatest engineering challenges of our time – no different than the Panama Canal or the space program. We’re humans and we will adapt. We’ve done it, and we will do it together as communities.” 

Additional free online tools to check out:

FEMA Elevation Certificate Instructions

Maine Floodplain Management Program

Hazard Mitigation Assistance Grant Program

National Flood Insurance Program – FloodSmart