Lehigh Valley

Fears arise over escalating flood insurance costs

Flood insurance problems

By Jamie Stover

High waters and widespread flooding barely phase John Marquette, who moved into his apartment on Conestoga Street in Bethlehem in June 2011.

"My first experience with flooding was Musikfest 2011 when I saw porta potties going down the street," Marquette said.

But the affects of the Biggert Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 (BW-12) are hitting him where his money is.

"It was a shocker. Money doesn't grow on trees," Marquette said.

Marquette recently found out his flood insurance premiums are nearly quadrupling, even though his apartment building never flooded. Marquette said his apartment building is now in an established flood plain, costing building residents $12,318 for $3 million in coverage. Last year, residents split the $3,158 premium for $500,000 of coverage.

"We got a notice from our insurance broker," Marquette said.

Marquette said he understands the logic behind the increase, and is willing to pay the price to live in a location he loves.

But Mark Mearhoff, President of Mearhoff Insurance Agency, said homeowners across the region could get a similar letter, bearing the same bad news. Some homeowners may be required to purchase flood insurance for the first time ever or face astronomically higher premiums on exisiting policies.

"You have a frequency of problems in the last 10 years that didn't happen for 30 years. Just like anything else, only taking in 'X' amount of dollars and paying tens of billions. I just read, the National Insurance Flood Program is $25 billion in debt," Mearhoff said.

Mearhoff said FEMA needed to update its Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) following such events.

"Those maps are outdated. They needed to be updated. You are sending out surveyors and those maps are coming back much bigger than anticipated," Mearhoff said.

According to FEMA, the rate increases are necessary in order to make the National Flood Insurance Program more financially stable. BW-12 phases out grandfathered rates and replaces it with risk-based rates when communities receive a new FIRM, FEMA reports.

There's not a whole lot homeowners can do to lower their premiums, but Mearhoff had some suggestions.

"Number one thing I try to do with clients is let's see if we can raise the deductibles," Mearhoff said.

FEMA recommends homeowners get an Elevation Certificate so the premium coincides with actual risk. It also suggests including flood mitigation in property improvements.

While not everyone has a creek or body of water nearby, Mearhoff said all homeowners need to seriously consider flood insurance.

"Everyone has flood exposure," Mearhoff said.

In Congress, a bipartisan group of legislators has introduced the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, which would halt rate increases under the Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 until two years after FEMA completes the affordability study mandated under the law.

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