Port’s Main Street is back in the flood zone
— A year after issuing a flood insurance rate map that excluded a portion of Main Street, federal officials have reversed their decision.
In a letter to Port Deposit Mayor Wayne Tome, Richard Pierson, a senior project engineer in the mitigation division of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, acknowledged a mistake made in devising the areas where flooding would take place, known as the Special Flood Hazard Area.
“The current FIRM (Flood Insurance Rate Map) for Cecil County, which became effective in May 2015, shows many areas within the town of Port Deposit that are subject to flooding as not within the SFHA,” Pierson’s letter reads, noting that the delineation came from where coastal flooding was likely rather than “other flooding effects from the Susquehanna River.”
Port Deposit is not affected by coastal flooding, the mayor said, adding the inundation comes from precipitation to the north.
“Obviously, we should be in there,” Tome said of the flood zone designation. “It floods significantly.”
William Powell, FEMA spokesman, said the agency doesn’t look at history when determining risk.
Flood waters begin to recede in Port Deposit in the days after Tropical Storm Lee struck in 2011. Rainfall to the north in the Susquehanna River basin is the primary cause of flooding in town.
“Historical evidence is considered in mapping for flood risk, however, it is not used to determine what the risk will be,” Powell said via email. “Flood maps are based off of the risk of a future event occurring, not past occurrences of flooding.”
Powell said the data centers around a 100-year flood event.
“We hope to provide an accurate description of risk so residents and communities can be informed,” he said. “These analyses found that the flood map inaccurately captured the flood risk facing Port Deposit and was based on coastal Stillwater elevation data, not necessarily data captured from the Susquehanna River and riverine flooding.”
“Due to this new data,
the maps will be revised to reflect the more accurate flood risk facing Port Deposit and the impacts on the current Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) and flood prone areas,” Powell added.
The maps, which had to be signed in every town and at the county level, acknowledged threat zones and made it clear that residents in those zones had to have insurance if they expected help after a disaster.
Tome said Thursday that he and members of the town council were dumbstruck last year when receiving word that the section of Port Deposit most likely to become inundated was not deemed a threat.
“We were like, ‘ Huh? Really? That doesn’t make sense,’” the mayor said.
At the same time, he re- calls urging residents to keep or obtain those flood policies regardless.
“We told residents even though they pulled us out they should still get insurance,” Tome said.
The last significant event followed Tropical Storm Lee in 2011.
In recent years, he noted, the town has had more flood areas surface and creeks that were not a threat before are now leaving their banks. Tome points to develop- ment outside town limits.
“With Rock Run, it seems to run a little bit higher because there’s more impervious surface with all the houses at Liberty Grove Road,” he said.
Port Deposit’s main source of flooding remains heavy rain upriver though.
“It’s runoff from Pennsylvania and the Susquehanna,” he said.
Exelon Generation, operators of the Conowingo Dam, now have a notification system in place to let Port Deposit know when to expect how much water in relation to the number of crest gates opened on the hydroelectric facility that also carries traffic on Route 1 across the Susquehanna north of town.
Water begins to arrive in town when at least 20 of the 53 gates have been opened. The utility devised the system after a 1996 ice dam created a record flood event. Town officials were unaware of the approaching problem.
A Maryland State Highway Administration project set to begin later this year to redirect stormwater could help, Tome added. A system of check valves to be installed would keep the river from flowing back into town.
“We put some of these (check valves) in years ago, but people stole them for scrap,” he said, noting that included the largest of the valves at Vannort Drive.
FEMA has an online mapping system at https://msc. fema.gov/portal that allows residents to find out if their property is in a flood zone. The new map has not been posted yet. The 2015 map shows the flood zone ending around Rock Run. According to Powell, the new map would become effective Aug. 1.
North East and Water Witch firefighters carry a Port Deposit man to dry ground after rescuing him from a North Main Street home after flood water from the Susquehanna River took over the town Saturday, Jan. 20, 1996. It was this situation that brought about the need for a tiered emergency notification system at the Conowingo Dam.