Nashua aims to enroll in FEMA flood risk program

NASHUA – The city is hoping to become one of only a handful of communities in New Hampshire aligned with a federal program designed to minimize flood damage and risk.

Madeleine Mineau, Nashua’s waterways manager, has been working to enroll the city in a voluntary Federal Emergency Management Agency program that could mean insurance savings for city property owners. The FEMA program is designed to encourage communities to follow floodplain management practices that could reduce risk.

Mineau said the system rates a community based on several criteria. FEMA lists being progressive in “creditable activities” as public information, mapping and regulations, flood damage reduction, and warning and response.

Beyond the public safety aspect, the reward for individuals is a discount on required flood insurance that a property owner may have to pay if his or her property is in a designated flood zone.

Mineau said there are 269 active flood insurance policies in Nashua. The average cost of the policies is $671 a year.

City maps show flood risk in the area of Salmon Brook, as well as the Nashua and Merrimack rivers. Properties within the zones include a mix of residential, large commercial and city-owned property, including BAE Systems on Canal Street.

The federal government built a levee along the Merrimack River in the 1940s following devastating floods from a series of storms in the 1930s that ravaged Nashua, along with much of the East. Properties in the levee-protected area include the city’s wastewater treatment plant and much of the area of the proposed Renaissance Downtown development project near the Taylor Falls and Veterans Bridges connecting to Hudson.

The scale runs from 1 to 9, with the best score being 1.

“We’re anticipating going in at a rate of 8,” Mineau said. That rating, she said, would give policyholders a discount between 5 and 10 percent.

Mineau said that once the city is enrolled in the program, it would work to improve its rating, leading to potentially further rate reductions for policyholders. Yearly recertification is required by FEMA to remain in the program.

According to FEMA, 1,391 communities nationwide participate in the Community Rating System program. Only four communities in the state are currently enrolled – Peterborough, Marlborough, Winchester and Keene.

“So far, there is a lot of interest in Seacoast communities, mainly in conjunction with sea level rise and coastal flooding rather than river flooding,” Mineau said. “Nashua by far would be the biggest (community) to join.”

A review session between FEMA representatives and the city was held in July. The first step was to document what the city is currently doing in regard to natural water flow management and to offset the consequences of catastrophic flooding on infrastructure.

The city would receive credit for features such as keeping certain floodplain property undeveloped. Mineau said Mine Falls Park, for example, is a place where water could accumulate should disaster arise and works in the city’s favor when considered by program officials.

Mineau said the next step is for FEMA to review documentation provided during the summer review. Though official enrollment can only occur in May or October, the slow process may mean that Nashua would have to wait until spring to see results of the preliminary work.

Don Himsel can be reached at 594-6590, or @Telegraph_DonH.