The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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December 31, 2013

Flood insurance on rise; there are ways to cut costs

Because of changes to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), some area residents may find that their flood insurance rates have risen as rapidly as floodwaters.

The changes are a result of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 and address “true flood risk” for property owners. The act also makes the NFIP “more financially stable” in the face of ultra-expensive claims made during natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012. West Virginia’s last disaster declaration was in June for severe flooding in Roane County.

Insurance costs will rise for homeowners whose flood insurance premiums were subsidized, meaning they have older structures built before their community’s Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) were adopted. Those rates were not based on elevation, as the new rates will be.

Residents who know they live in a flood-prone area can do several things to determine what their risk exposure is. The first step is finding out the flood zone, or the Base Flood Elevation. The BFE shows the estimated height waters will reach in a major flood event.

Next, identify the elevation of the structure, which will allow an insurance agent to determine both what risk exposure a structure has and the cost of insuring that structure.

Living in a flood zone is risky, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has some tips for mitigating the risk and managing the cost, including elevating the structure, changing deductibles and encouraging the community’s governing body to adopt higher building standards than the federal standard.

Alan Holliday with Ficon-Bush Insurance Agency in Beckley said Monday that all his company’s existing customers had gotten renewal notices with the new rates.

“It worked out better for some people,” Holliday said. “And some premiums went up.”

Holliday said his company had not seen a major difference in calls for new policies as a result of the changes in the law.

The state’s lawmakers are concerned about flood insurance premium increases, and plan to introduce a resolution at the beginning of the 2014 Legislative session next week to ask Congress to revisit Biggert-Waters in light of financial concerns for  individuals and small business owners.

“West Virginia residents and small business owners who work hard are being hit with shockingly high flood insurance costs,” House Speaker Tim Miley said. “I don’t believe that the people in Washington, D.C., realize the effect the changes to the National Flood Insurance Program are having on people who are living in low flood-risk areas here in West Virginia.”

— E-mail: ppritt@register-herald.com

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