Innovative floodplain ordinance passed in Saco, Maine

March 4, 2013

“If you live in southern Maine and there’s a big enough winter or spring storm, then the odds are good that there will be footage on a local television station of Camp Ellis and the beating it’s taking,” explained Saco City Planner Bob Hamblen.

The repeated loss of homes to wave action and beach erosion in this neighborhood of Saco has made Camp Ellis a poster child of storm damage within the state.

“If there were going to be a Maine community most in need of taking action to prepare for future storms, it would be Saco,” Hamblen said. “Because of all the damage, the planning board, city staff and council are all very mindful of what happens on the coast during a storm.”

Severe beach erosion in Saco, ME from 1908 to 2007. Photo courtesy of city planner Bob Hamblen.

“In a lot of ways, Saco was the perfect community to consider changes to the floodplain ordinance,” he said. “We’ve seen in very real terms what can happen to structures down at the beach.”

The city of Saco’s new ordinance requires construction after storm damage or renovation above 50 percent of the home’s market value to elevate the home two feet higher than the federal compliance standards. Coordinated changes were made to accommodate height restrictions. The policy applies to new construction too.

The change was low-cost and was approved without much ado. No one spoke against the change at the city council’s public hearing and the change was approved unanimously by the council.

“It was just common sense,” said Hamblen.

The project emerged from results of research done by the Sea Level Adaptation Working Group (SLAWG), as well as communication and collaboration between Saco, Scarborough, Biddeford, and Old Orchard Beach. The group looked at actions that wouldn’t take a lot of effort and would make sense to coastal property owners.

House built on pilings in Saco, ME. Saco’s freeboard ordinance requires home elevation for new contruction or severely damaged properties. Photo taken by USGS Coastal Geologist Pete Slovinsky in December 2009.

“The group’s recommendations are recognized as successful and reasonable,” Hamblen said.
Coastal homeowners have been receptive of the policy, and “some really appreciate the city partnering with them on this,” Hamblen explained.

“So many of the owners live out of state. I imagine an owner in Massachusetts or New Jersey hearing about the storm coming up the coast, and resting a little easier knowing they’ve raised their house up a couple more feet,” Hamblen noted.



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