Flood plain map delays complicate insurance

With the National Flood Insurance Program languishing $24 billion in debt, a measure to prop up the program that provides subsidies to make flood insurance policies more affordable will result in decreasing subsidies.

As the subsidies slide, and flood insurance premiums increase, the potential exists for hundreds of people in Warren County to be impacted.

According to ArcGIS, a geographic information system, data, Warren County has 227 subsidized policies with the most in Conewango Township (34), Pine Grove Township (30), , Pittsfield Township (29) and Youngsville Borough (27).

“People are getting policy renewal notices. Policies have increased because of the change in the law,” said County Planner Dan Glotz.

While the NFIP’s intention is to keep flood insurance policies affordable, Zoning Officer Aaron Kalkbrenner, who oversees the flood plain ordinance for those municipalities covered by the county zoning ordinance, said that if the premium increases were phased in all at once the result would be a “serious increase” of up to 20 percent while the legislation previously limited the maximum premium increase to 10 percent. “The increase doubles with the act,” he said.

Glotz said that some people on the coasts are seeing increases in the thousands of dollars. He noted that the legislation did alter the implementation of the increase to phase in the total increase over a period of years.

Glotz explained that the NFIP is “broke” because of “Katrina and Sandy and some of these big disasters. They’re being forced to come up with the funding to cover the losses. Insurance policies were subsidized. The subsidies are disappearing.

The gap is widened as premiums increase, as well.

The premium hikes and policy changes have resulted in an increase in calls to the county zoning office “wanting to know if their houses are in a flood plain,” said Glotz. “What we’re seeing happening (is that) determinations are made from companies outside of the area when if reality structures may be out of the flood plain.”

When those determinations are questioned, Kalkbrenner is tasked with taking measurements at the site to determine whether the structures are in the plain. If it is too close to call, an outside surveyor will be consulted to prepare an elevation certificate.

Glotz explained that, for the determination, the lowest usable floor of a structure has to be above the high water mark in the flood plain. The county requires properties to be at least 1.5 feet above that high water mark.

Flood insurance was designed to protect structures so, in some cases, insurance might not be required if the structure is outside of the flood plain while other portions of the parcel might be in a flood plain.

Kalkbrenner explained that the county has two types of flood plain zones on the maps 100-year flood zones and 500-year flood zones.

But what does that actually mean?

In 100-year flood zones, a property has a 1 percent annual risk of a flood occurring at the property. The percentage drops to .2 in the 500-year zone.

For example, Kalkbrenner explained, a house has a 30 percent chance of being damaged over a 30-year mortgage in a 100-year zone.

Glotz said if a structure can be determined to be above the high water mark line, or out of the 100-year zone, insurance premiums might not be as high, if insurance is required at all.

Sugar Grove and Farmington townships do not have any subsidized policies. Elk, Cherry Grove and Eldred townships have no NFIP policies at all.

The rest of the county has between 1 and 200 subsidized policies.

Kalkbrenner said that the more densely populated areas tend to have a higher rate of subsidized policies.

So do you want to figure out if your house is in a flood plain?

Be careful what maps you check.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is in the midst of a massive update to flood plain maps across the country.

The new maps were supposed to be ready in 2010, according to Glotz.

Draft forms of those maps are floating around out there that differ from the maps currently in place.

But the new maps, which are now projected for a 2015 completion date after numerous delays, can’t be used.

So if your house is in a flood plain now, and not in the new maps, you’re still stuck.

“DCED (Department of Community and Economic Development) is included in the review process,” said Glotz. “They’re over-taxed and understaffed. It’s put them way behind.”

While the counties covered under the county zoning ordinance are covered under one flood plain ordinance, Glotz explained that flood plain administration is typically a municipal function.

So instead of 67 ordinances that DCED has to review, one for each county, they are instead tasked with review of up to 2,500 ordinances, one for each municipality.

“Every one of those ordinances has to be reviewed, and the maps” updated, he said. “This is a nation-wide effort.”

“The (new) maps will be a lot nicer,” said Zoning Officer Aaron Kalkbrenner, who said they will include aerial photography.

He added that he has fielded calls about the new maps and which ones are to be used.

Glotz said federal authorities are directing flood plain administrators to continue using the old maps until the new ones are formally approved.