18-Month Decertification Process for Hurricane Barrier Initiated by FEMA

The New Bedford (Massachusetts) hurricane barrier is being decertified. The Federal Emergency Management Agency began the process to this effect recently. It’s an action that could impact homeowners, in the structure’s protected area, financially.

Earlier this week FEMA sent a letter to barrier stakeholders to alert them of the beginning of an approximately 18-month decertification process, according to Fairhaven selectmen.

This means that the barrier’s recertification process now has an unavoidable deadline. This deadline has more serious consequences than the one officials missed in the summer.

When FEMA was updating its flood maps, it had given local officials a deadline of August 14th for receiving proof of the barrier’s ability to protect. They gave this deadline without attaching penalties to it.

However, now, if the recertification doesn’t happen by early 2012, FEMA will reclassify parts of Fairhaven and New Bedford on its flood maps, which would force homeowners living in those flood plains to buy flood insurance.

The barrier was built in the sixties by the Army Corps. It protects about 1,400 acres in New Bedford, Fairhaven and Acushnet from flooding in severe storms or hurricanes. A portion of the barrier that crosses the harbor is still owned by the Corps, but they deeded the section on the New Beford side to the city and the part on Fairhaven land to Fairhaven in 1966.

Barrier owners had two years to recertify it, but the process was placed on hold because they needed funds on the New Bedford and federal sections. It just got started this summer, at about the time that FEMA’s deadline came up, after the Corps attained stimulus funding for an engineering study that was needed.

The study, which is expected to take about six months, will indicate what condition the barrier is in and whether or not it still meets federal standards. If it still meets federal standards, FEMA will continue to recognize it as a protective barrier.

But if the study determines that it needs repairs, the problem will be how to finance them in this difficult economic reality we live in and whether or not they can be done by 2012.

Officials in Fairhaven have said already that they don’t have the resources for expensive repairs.

However, in New Bedford, commission of public infrastructure, Ronald Labelle, is optimistic and believes the structure can be recertified with ease.

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