Feds lay down law in flood talks (Illinois)

Feds lay down law in flood talks [Illinois]

COLLINSVILLE — Communities that fail to live up to strict, new floodplain management standards face financial penalties or possible loss of insurance eligibility, federal officials are telling community leaders.

Federal agency representatives flooded elected officials with information about insurance issues in a meeting Tuesday night, one of a series of gatherings taking place this week.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Flood Insurance Program reviewed flood insurance, with a special emphasis on communities that have never been required to purchase policies in the past.

“You are all aware of the decertification of the levees expected to go into place,” said David Schein, the FEMA regional flood insurance liaison. “We are not here to talk about that. We are here to talk about flood insurance.”

FEMA is expected to issue new flood hazard maps this spring, which will cause communities in Madison, St. Clair and Monroe counties to policies protecting residents in the newly marked floodplain.

“In a sense, the flood hazard map erases the levees,” Schein said. “It’s like they are not even there.”

The area, which is called the American Bottom, includes 150,000 property owners and 4,000 businesses, Madison County towns that would be affected by the new flood maps include Alton, East Alton, Wood River, Roxana, South Roxana, Hartford, Collinsville, Edwardsville, Glen Carbon, Roxana, Pontoon Beach and Granite City.

Schein and Richard Roths, a spokesman with the flood program’s Bureau and Statistical Agency, provided nearly 150 municipal and county officials from the three counties with information on why floodplain management will be necessary and who will enforce people to buy flood insurance.

Roths said that if a community does not enforce its floodplain management then compliance action will be taken against the community, it will be placed on probation and a $50 surcharge will be place on all flood insurance policies. He said if a community is suspended then flood insurance will no longer be available and disaster assistance and loans will be impacted.

The new flood maps could be published as early as June and take effect by July. If it happens and communities have not yet established a floodplain management system then flood insurance rates could skyrocket for home and business owners.

Schein said it is not FEMA that is requiring homeowners to carry flood insurance, but rather lenders of all federally backed mortgages.

The National Flood Disaster Protection Act of 1973 mandates the purchase of flood insurance under certain conditions. The National Flood Insurance Reform Act of 1994 increases participation in the National Flood Insurance Program.

Schein said that if a person is within the floodplain and the lender requires flood insurance and the building owner doesn’t get it the banking institution can then force the person to pay, which could be a more expensive plan.

“The thing about force pay is the bank is covered for the loss if you’re flooded, but you are not,” he said.

Roths said that currently there are several types of flood zones, types and polices. He said a new zone, known as the Area Restoration Zone or AR Zone, will be established when the new maps are published.

He said the zone will protect people who currently have or will have flood insurance prior to the new maps going in place and lock them into that zone.

“There is some confusion about the rates,” Schein said. “This has nothing to do with insurance rates, but rather the type of zone a property will be in.”

An AR zone is an area in the floodplain as the result of the decertification or a previously accredited levee in the process of being restored. There is a mandatory purchase requirement for flood insurance on buildings in the AR Zone once maps are in effect.

The flood insurance rates would be the same as for buildings not in the A zone, which is that of a 100-year flood.

He said the floodplain ordinance must be in effect the date the maps take place or the community will be suspended from the National Flood Insurance Program.

“Each community must adopt the map or people will be unable to get insurance,” Schein said.

He said communities could also help themselves by taking part in a community rating system, which is similar to fire rating systems. The system rewards communities that go above and beyond in improving flood conditions so the insured can get anywhere from 5 to 45 percent discount in their flood policy.

The estimated average for minimal flood insurance per year is around $600, Schein said.

Following the two-hour meeting, members of the audience asked questions. One man, who was in the back of the room said, “Why don’t you call this what it really is — a tax?”

Schein said it wasn’t a tax. He said that lenders require homeowners to carry fire insurance, but the risk of flooding is four times greater for flood than for fire.

“If it’s mandatory it’s a tax,” the man said. “You’re still paying for Hurricane Katrina.”

Schein said federal law does not allow what happened in the past to determine how programs are currently implemented.

“It’s based on today and what is expected to happen in the future,” Schein said.

Madison County Board member Helen Hawkins, D-Granite City, said her home sits 16 feet below flood stage and years ago she was asked to take part in a pilot program for flood insurance. She said she did and has never doubted what it’s done for her.

“I pay around $1,000 a year,” Hawkins said. “It could go up when the maps go in place, but I know where I’m at and it give me a peace of mind.”

Roxana Mayor Felix Floyd asked what the process was for taking part in the community rating system.

Schein said a letter of request must be sent to FEMA.

“How soon can a community send a letter?” Floyd asked.

“As soon as you send the letter,” Schein said.

East St. Louis Mayor Alvin Parks asked if there was a plan in place to assist struggling homeowners with the burden of costs. He said that there are many low-income families out there who may not be able to incur the costs associated with the minimum required coverage.

Schein said there is nothing that can be done, at least by FEMA.

Tuesday’s meeting took place at the Metro-East Park and Recreation District Office.

Visit http://www.swillinoislevees.org or http://www.floodsmart.gov to find out more information.

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