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A view of the new rock ramp built to replace the old Kenyon Dam in Kenyon. A $6,000 FEMA application fee for the project was waived, but Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse wants that to happen automatically when federal state or local funds are used on such projects. | (David Smith/The Sun)

Measure cuts fees on river habitat projects


The U.S. Senate this week approved an amendment offered by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., to cut through red tape and burdensome costs that could hamper habitat restoration projects.

The amendment, which was added to the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act by voice vote on Wednesday, would help habitat restoration projects by exempting those funded with federal, state, or local dollars from the fees associated with a request for a flood insurance rate map change. The Senate passed the flood insurance reform act Thursday. The overall legislation is intended to delay premium increases charged for federally subsidized flood insurance.

The amendment effort was supported by the Hope Valley-based Wood Pawcatuck Watershed Association, which has worked on a number of habitat restoration projects, such as the removal of the Lower Shannock Falls and Kenyon dams, and the building of a fish ladder at Horsehoe Falls Dam.

The application fees to FEMA associated with the work at those three dams would have totaled $18,000, according to Christopher J. Fox, Wood Pawcatuck executive director. However, those fees were waived by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Fox said those fees are generally paid to a consultant hired by FEMA to put together new flood maps.

Fox added that it did cost the projects $7,000 in billable hours spent between the engineers and FEMA representatives to get those waivers.

There are approximately 300 dams in Rhode Island and about 25 of those have structural issues that will require their removal, said Fox.

Even with the waiver of the fee, the engineering costs to study the effects of the projects on the flood plain was $60,000, Fox said, and it is information FEMA can use to produce new maps.

Whitehouse said, “Habitat restoration projects, like the Upper Pawcatuck River restoration projects in Rhode Island, can benefit our environment and reduce flood risks. As a result, they can also reduce liabilities for the National Flood Insurance Program. The projects are a win-win, but they are sometimes subjected to costly fees or needless red tape. My amendment standardizes a process for eliminating one of the fees associated with these projects, sparing project developers and government agencies from unnecessary delays and paperwork.”

Under current law, habitat restoration projects that are expected to alter flood plains must request an official flood insurance rate map revision from FEMA and pay a fee. While the federal, state, or local government sponsoring a project may apply to have this fee waived — and the waiver is often granted — the process is not standardized and can result in delays and unnecessary paperwork for FEMA and other government agencies.

Fox said, “As the administrator of several of Rhode Island’s most recent and valuable river restoration projects, including the state’s first permitted dam removal, I was thrilled to learn of the amendment’s passage today.”

Fox said that the planners of many projects do not even realize that it is a requirement to contact FEMA and either pay the application fee or seek a waiver.

In the case of Horse Shoe Falls Dam, the water level was unchanged, and there was no effect on the flood plain. The Kenyon Dam project, in whch the dam was replaced by a rock ramp, did require a slight increase in the water level. In the case of the removal of Lower Shannock Falls Dam, the flood risk was reduced.



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