Baltimore City’s latest move: new flood plain maps

Written by on May 1, 2013 in Featured, Neighborhood News - No comments

Baltimore Department of Transportation employee Jarod Carter, right, helps Canton resident Justin Ellis fill some sandbags at the Fell’s Point Broadway Pier just prior to Hurricane Sandy. - Photo by Erik Zygmont

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The zoning rewrite, the stormwater tax, the trash fee: the city has been moving forward or proposing a number of policy items of real consequence for residents.

The latest? New flood plain maps.

At a meeting last night—too late for the Guide’s deadline—the city unveiled changes to its flood plain maps, which may be revised until March 2014.

Last week, Kristin Baja, Hazard Mitigation Planner for the city, attended the Fell’s Point Task Force meeting to inform residents that the city will be working on the maps and a “Disaster Preparedness and Planning Project.”

There will be several public meetings on the new flood maps and the preparedness project, dubbed “DP3,” Baja said, “so that you have a really good idea of what’s in this plan, you have a part in this plan, and you help develop this plan.”

Residents, businesses and government use flood plain maps for disaster preparation, but as they predict the likelihood of a water disaster event, they are also scrutinized by lenders, who may require flood insurance before approving a mortgage.

Ken Hranicky, a city planner, noted that the study behind Baltimore’s current flood plain maps had been completed in 1977.

The most recent study, he said, has determined that, generally, the flood line has actually receded.

“That line has gone back toward the water significantly,” he said.

The flood plain mapping is part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Flood Insurance Program, which offers flood insurance to homeowners, renters and business owners, provided that they live in a jurisdiction participating in the program.

Hranicky said that participation in the NFIP is voluntary, but Baltimore is doing so because “it affords the residents access to flood insurance as well as disaster relief.”

The flood plain maps and DP3 are two separate initiatives. The city is presenting them together, Hranicky said, because they are “somewhat related.”

Hranicky said that extraordinary events such as 2003’s Hurricane Isabel, affect the flood plain maps only in as much as they influence the final averages and means used to determine the flood line. Hurricane Sandy, he noted, has no influence on the new maps, as it occurred after studies were completed.

Nevertheless, “extraordinary precipitation events” such as Isabel and Sandy are a major consideration for the city’s new disaster plan, DP3, which also takes into account sea level rise and extreme heat. Of those natural disasters, extreme heat, Hranicky noted, has caused the most deaths in Baltimore CIty.

Intimate flood-risk analysis

For those communities who want an in-depth look at their flood risk, as well as risk-reduction options, University of Maryland doctoral candidate Beth Olsen is offering both.

As part of her doctoral research, Olsen is experimenting with two computer-assisted support tools designed to communicate flood risk information to the public.

Olsen said that her program will give small communities very detailed assessments of their flood risk, as well as ways to mitigate those risks. Her models will predict flood risk as far as 50 years in the future “for those who want to be really prepared,” she said.

“If you think you’re on high ground, the benefit to you is knowing you’re on high ground,” Olsen said.

She is seeking community and neighborhood association presidents to participate; she has 12 slots in the program, which is first-come, first-serve.

Participants will be asked to complete two surveys, one before Olsen’s presentation and one after.

For more information, contact Olsen at or 301-325-6770.

by Erik Zygmont

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