Boston: City not quite as flood prone as feds say

Boston is appealing a federal flood-plain decision that could mean dramatically higher insurance rates for thousands of Boston landowners.

In an appeal to FEMA yesterday, the city says 507 of the 1,585 acres the feds now say would flood in a "100-year storm" would not actually flood in that kind of storm.

Last year, FEMA released revised 100-year floodplain maps for eastern Massachusetts. Besides helping planners brace for large storms, the proposed maps would also require landowners with federally backed mortgages in the enlarged zones to pay for more expensive flood insurance.

The city says 13,709 housing units and 4,202 businesses sit in the new flood areas. In a statement, the mayor's office says:

Because of the significant impacts of these maps, the City of Boston hired Woods Hole Group (WHG) through a competitive bid process to evaluate FEMA's flood mapping methodology, data sources and modeling. WHG’s final report found inconsistencies in FEMA’s mapping and flood study approach, resulting in approximately 507 acres of land that should be removed from the 100-year floodplain, as well as 33 acres that should be included. These findings serve as the grounds for a technical appeal with FEMA. In addition, WHG is currently conducting more detailed and accurate hydrodynamic flood modeling of Boston Harbor, which will be completed and submitted as supplemental information as a basis for a scientific appeal.



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PDF icon City's FEMA appeal100.03 KB


Your opinion is capable of

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discerning statistical likelihoods of coastal flooding based on models of sea level, elevation, and climate changes more accurately than FEMAs?

You should run this over to FEMA right now, if you're right, they'll be eager to hear your case I'm sure!

Gonna be a long discussion.

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I understand the desire to protect constituents from excess costs, particularly when they pay taxes here - and could just as easily go pay taxes elsewhere. I'm also unable to comment on the quality of the work that went in to this round of FEMA's maps (as in, not qualified to comment), or WHG's counter-maps.

Still, those maps being right is important to taxpayers, as I imagine the federal disaster funds that would end up helping out people who remain or build in flood-prone locations come from somebodies' pocket.

Feels a little funny that political lobbying is directing what would ideally be a science-driven enterprise, but maybe that's just me.

Yeah, strange...

"Feels a little funny that political lobbying is directing what would ideally be a science-driven enterprise..."

Unsurprising, really. It's kinda like the whole politically based, non-science effort to deny that climate change is happening, right?


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The climate is changing? Scientists should look into that.

If the people in the newly

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If the people in the newly designated flood plains don't pay the new flood insurance rates, it is taxpayers that will have to foot the bill if flooding occurs. Of course they will fight that, they want the government flood insurance but don't want to pay full price for it. Make flood insurance a private market like car insurance and then people can decide whether they want to pay what it costs or not. But saying that taxpayers will cover the difference so pay the least that you can lobby lawmakers to agree to makes no fiscal sense.

Plum Island

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I agree, but then you'll have people like the folks on Plum Island who then get mad that they don't get to violate environmental laws to protect their own property. (That they bought knowing it was built on a sandy barrier island on the ocean.)

Frequently, houses are in

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Frequently, houses are in flood zones because streams and marshes cannot, when there is a heavy rain, handle the runoff... this is especially true at times of high tide Before the" Asphalt Age" flooding of these streams wasn't as much of an issue issue.. For instance, parts of Quincy flood because of runoff from the Expressway. Development outside of the flood plains results in fields and marshes being asphalted for roads and driveways and this results in more flooding for houses near water. Therefore, people not living near any water but nonetheless contributing to the problem of excessive runoff bear responsibility for the flooding and should bear some cost for the burden they are putting on some of their fellow citizens.

The important number here is

Okay, so 500 acres aren't in the flood zone. That leaves 1,000 that are!

The ocean level is rising (doesn't matter the cause, it just is) in Boston. Meanwhile, parts of the city are sinking due to settling landfill.

You've been warned!

Uh, I don't know. FEMA's

Uh, I don't know. FEMA's pretty good with the flood prediction modeling. Their revised New York maps pretty accurately reflected the flooding that happened during Sandy. This seems more political than reality based objections.

Boston is bringing this up now

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because of all the development down the South Boston Waterfront. When it was parking lots and Pier 4 they could give 2 shits.


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Honestly I was surprised at how little South Boston is actually impacted by the new maps. Aside from the flood-zone impact around the waterfront/Fort Point, which is where the preponderance of fill-based land in Southie is located, there's a little more flood zone around Castle Island (the ice rink, for one, and the freight terminal), and some in the Roxbury/Dorchester/Southie triangle nether-region. But by and large the residential areas of South Boston are build on the sides of the ridge centered on Telegraph Hill/Dorchester Heights depending on your preferred nomenclature, and thus are a. on real land, and b. elevated somewhat from the water. Myself, I'm only a couple blocks from the beach but probably get a 35' elevation advantage over mean high tide. I'm surprised that's enough, but NOAA/NWS/FEMA/whoever think it is.

Apart from the waterfront

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Apart from the waterfront (northern ave) south boston is actually on high ground. Beacon hill and Southie would probably be the only dry land in 100 year flood, until you get to Roxbury. The areas around the river; cambridge port, back bay, those areas are more likely to flood than coastal areas, because they are low lying swamp land.

Our ex-house in Quincy was in

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Our ex-house in Quincy was in flood zone AE and was two feet below the base flood elevation. Annual flood insurance was $2600 for coverage of $250,000. It is good that Boston is challenging the maps as this is a complex subject. Some towns elect not to challenge the maps and as FEMA will only accept challenges based on incorrect topology or bathymetry it is beyond the ability of anyone not an expert to challenge the maps.
Our house in Quincy was protected by a tidal gate; if the tidal gate had been federally built it would be included in the FEMA analysis; but the gate was built by local/state funds so is ignored by FEMA.
Also, FEMA considered the cellar floor the lowest level of our house; so the flooding in our house would not have reached any floor above the cellar.
I think FEMA is doing a valuable but thankless job; and the law has been updated to make recently be Congress to make flood insurance more affordable. Some burdensome features of the law are;the homeowner can lower the insurance cost with a deductible; but the homeowner needed approval from their lender to get any deductible above $1000 of damages. The insurance premium must also be paid in a single payment and cannot be budgeted monthly unless the lender agrees.
And if the homeowner cannot pay, the lender is allowed to force place insurance and bill the homeowner directly. Nonpayment will lead to foreclosure.
The flood insurance program has unusual political allies. Reform is opposed by the Tea Party lobbies who don't want to improve any gov't program; and allied with the Tea Party are environmental groups like the Environmental Defense Fund and Union Of Concerned Scientist who don't want to change the law.
On the flood insurance reform side, Sen. Warren is allied with conservatives from MS. and LA ( as well as the NY senators).