By CHRISTINE LEGERE firstname.lastname@example.org
September 27, 2013
A heavy downpour in 2011 caused flooding on Barnstable Road in Hyannis.
Cape Cod Times File/Jim Preston
Local, state and federal officials are mobilizing to delay dramatic hikes in flood insurance premiums rapidly coming down the pike for property owners in flood-prone areas.
The increases are part of a federal law designed to return the National Flood Insurance Program to the black. The government-subsidized program has been driven nearly $30 billion into the red by storm damage over the last several years.
On Thursday, the entire Massachusetts congressional delegation signed on to a letter delivered to House and Senate leaders saying they recognize the aim of Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 but they urge a delay in premium increases until a cost study, mandated in the act, has been done.
"I want an affordability fix, not simply an affordability study about impacts of new flood maps," Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said in an emailed statement. "We need immediate action to ensure that business and homeowners who cannot afford these potential increases are helped," wrote Markey, who organized the letter to legislative leaders.
As it stands now, small business owners with subsidies will see their rates increase by 25 percent each year until they reflect actual risk; the same goes for primary residences with similar subsidies as soon as they are sold.
Rates will also start to climb on properties that have been previously damaged by floods. Owners of secondary homes in risk zones who had subsidized insurance already saw their rates start to jump in January.
"Reports from residents and businesses in Massachusetts have described the potential for dramatic and completely unaffordable flood insurance premium increases, as FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) has moved forward to implement the law," members of the Massachusetts delegation say in the letter.
The letter points out that new flood maps developed by FEMA, and under review in Massachusetts communities, will dramatically expand the flood-risk areas, and insurance will be required of any property owner with a federally insured mortgage.
Once the new maps go into effect, likely in late 2014, many new owners in high-risk zones will be paying yearly premiums reflecting full-flood risk.
At recent information sessions, FEMA officials have conceded those premiums can run from thousands to tens of thousands of dollars.
Currently property owners have until Oct. 17 to appeal their risk designations on the new maps. They must accompany any appeal with enough scientific data to refute FEMA's findings.
To date, few on the Cape have submitted appeals.
Chatham Selectman Sean Summers said his board will discuss the new flood maps and their effects, at a meeting at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
"My concern is the lack of understanding by the public on what this means," Summers said. "I think 99 percent of the people affected by the new maps have no idea."
In Chatham, 1,300 properties have been added to the flood zone on the new FEMA maps, he said.
"These aren't normal insurance hikes," he said. "Some are talking about $30,000. I'm hopeful they can get some delay for the hikes."
Summers said his board will consider filing an appeal of the maps as a community.
"We're getting discouraged from appealing by our staff, who say all kinds of data needs to be gathered to even appeal," Summers said. "I'm of a mind we should do it anyway."
The Cape's state senators and representatives appealed last week to the Massachusetts congressional delegation to co-sponsor a federal bill called the Flood Insurance Implementation Reform Act.
Among the bill's provisions are a three-year delay in implementation of flood insurance hikes and a five-year delay in charging full premiums on newly purchased flood-risk properties.
The bill, sponsored by U.S. Rep. William Keating, D-Mass., and others, has been stuck in committee since late May.