UPDATE: Nov. 11 — Will you have to buy flood insurance next year? Will your rates go up or down? Broward residents will be able to get their first look at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s preliminary new flood insurance rate maps for the county starting Monday, November 14, in Pembroke Pines.
The digital maps, which show the extent to which areas are at risk for flooding, will also be on display in open houses at locations in Plantation on Tuesday and Pompano Beach on Wednesday. Here’s a link to the details on times and locations: http://www.fema.gov/news/newsrelease.fema?id=59341
By Amber Statler-Matthews, BrowardBulldog.org
If Broward County is like the rest of the country, property owners who have never paid for flood insurance will soon be forced to buy the coverage when the Federal Emergency Management Agency unveils its new flood map.
During the past eight years, since FEMA began rolling out its updated maps, property owners in New York, California, Texas, Michigan and other parts of Florida were included in high-risk flood zones without moving or change in geography.
Broward is among the next areas to receive a new flood map, which has not been redrawn locally since the 1980s.
Like many property owners who already have flood insurance, those added to the FEMA map will be buying the protection through a federal program that’s drowning in debt and facing sharp increases in rates.
Approximately 85 percent of Broward – with 800,000 homes and apartments — already sits in a Special Flood Hazard Zone based on the current map, which includes the Everglades conservation area covering the western half of the county.
When a new map came out for Miami-Dade County in 2008 13 of 27 cities, as well as unincorporated area, were notified that there was a greater flood risk within their communities.
The federal government is trying to increase the number of homeowners in the program while also showing that the program is needed, said Dr. Stephen Leatherman, co-director of the International Hurricane Research Center at Miami’s Florida International University.
As a practical matter, though, urban areas like Broward face an increased risk of flooding because of additional growth.
“Increased development and hardening of the land surface with buildings and asphalt can increase the flood hazard of areas,” he said. “The water cannot percolate into the ground as easily and fast.”
The proposed new Broward map won’t be available until the end of this month or October.
A REQUIREMENT FOR MORTGAGES
Unlike windstorm insurance which is available from private sources, the federal government is the primary provider of flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program.
The Wall Street Journal reported this month the fate of the insurance program has been “murky” and unstable because rates don’t cover the financial risks of federal taxpayers who underwrite the program. The insurance program has been $18 billion in debt since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The National Flood Insurance Program expires at the end of this month if US Congress doesn’t pour more money into the program. The House of Representatives this summer approved a bill that allows premiums to jump as much as 20 percent a year.
Congress passed the Flood Disaster Protection Act of 1973 that requires property owners with a mortgage from a federally regulated bank or other lending institution to purchase flood insurance when a house or other building is in a high-risk area.
Currently, property owners pay an average of $600 a year for flood insurance, according to FEMA. Those with a higher risk pay more. Some property owners could see their insurance go down if the new map shows less flood risk.
HARD TO GET OFF THE MAP
Once your property is determined to be in a designated Special Flood Hazard Zone it’s not easy to shed that costly label. It takes time, experts and money.
“I started the process four years ago,” said Jack Myers, who has paid for flood insurance even though he owns a home on some of the highest ground in Broward in the Pine Island Ridge area of Davie. “But there was so much red tape I gave up.”
Previous flood maps were created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, using data collected from land surveyors and computers to measure potential flood elevations. Today, FEMA uses satellites to identify locations and airborne lasers to measure land elevations.
Once the new maps are released, there will be a during a 90-day public comment period. Property owners can, for example, protest an incorrect address or other issues. They can at any time file a Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA) to challenge an elevation determination. Click here to learn how to file a LOMA.
To try and get FEMA to reconsider a high-risk flood designation, property owners may be required to hire a land surveyor to assess the elevation of the property and obtain an elevation certificate.
Property owners can view information about their property using existing maps here.
Land owners in Coral Springs, Pembroke Pines and Davie have won challenges over the years based on the current map that’s about to be replaced. There were no new local appeals filed last year, according to FEMA.
Myers owns a house along the Pine Island Ridge in Davie and his property sits at least three feet above the current FEMA flood zone in the Forest Ridge neighborhood. The governing map that has been used to determine flood risk pre-dated Forest Ridge.
Myers filed a Letter of Map Amendment four years ago to rid his house of the special flood designation. A retired civil engineer, he said his first and second applications were turned down.
“The second was rejected because you didn’t do this or that,” Myers said.
A third try was successful and he won his case in front of FEMA on May 19.
Myers’ bank has agreed to no longer require flood insurance and agreed to take him off the flood zone list for next year. He contacted FEMA and asked for a refund of $315 to cover his flood insurance premium already paid for this year. Myers said he has not received a response.
FEMA OPEN HOUSE PLANNED
Once the new map is finished, FEMA plans an open house.
“We are in the planning stages for an open house where the public can come in and look at the new maps, see where their property is located relative to the special flood hazard area, and ask questions,” said FEMA spokeswoman Margaret J. Cotrill.
The 90-day public comment will start after the open house at a location that’s yet to be determined. When that 90-day period is over, the issues are reviewed. Some appeals or protests may take longer.
According to FEMA, it could be December 2012 before the new Broward map is finished and officially accepted and placed into the public record.