2013-02-22 / Editorial/Opinion

Mapping Our Demise

A little clarity please. It’s been three weeks since FEMA released its new advisory flood maps. We still can’t make heads or tails out of it. As far as we can tell, FEMA recommends homeowners raising homes 3 to 6 feet. Or else pay exorbitant flood insurance rates. Some reports have these rates going from $9500 to get this: $30,000 per year. Yes, per year.

Figuring out if your house has to be raised at all (and to what height) is its own challenge. You have to figure out your BFE. You know, the Base Flood Elevation (defined as The base flood is the 1%-annual-chance flood, commonly called the “hundred year flood.” Base Flood Elevation is the water-surface elevation of the base flood. The depth of the base flood can be calculated by subtracting the ground elevation from the BFE. The probability is 1% that rising water will reach BFE height in any year; which compounds over a thirty-year period to 26% or more).


You can try their recommended website region2coastal.com and put in your address and it may tell your ABFE (another confusing term) and your BFE and then you have to find out how much above sea level your house is (which probably requires a surveyor).

And let’s say the technical language is cleared up and we find out that yes many of us have to raise our homes. But, of course, many, probably most, homes are not ideal candidates to be raised. So it’s really a Hobson’s choice. There is only one option –pay the insurance. Or if there is a choice: it’s take it or leave it.

If homeowners must pay $10,000 a year (and that can climb) neighborhoods will be destroyed long before the next super storm. As it is, too many homeowners are under the strain of large mortgages and ever-climbing taxes. Add $800 or $1000 a month to the carrying costs and you will see people walk away and a real estate market collapse.

Wealthy people or those with no mortgages are really not much better off. Do they want to live in a neighborhood that’s severely unstable? If people leave, businesses fail, too. What kind of place would that be? So, the people who “don’t have to worry” about flood insurance premiums might rethink that.

The mixed messages are no help. The Army Corps of Engineers calls Sandy a “250 year storm.” Why then, are we asked to pay flood insurance as if it’s an every six month storm? The Army Corps says we’re going to be more protected than ever. Why then, are we asked to pay insurance rates that suggest we’re going to be less safe than ever?

FEMA has released these “advisory” maps so owners might make informed rebuilding or repairing decisions. Well, first you might have to hire someone who can translate their arcane and obtuse language. But putting aside FEMA’s unreadable prose, its timing is what we take great exception to as well. Again, FEMA is releasing their maps before the Army Corps makes Rockaway safer.

If you’re so inclined, go online and look up Biggert Waters legislation. You will get a clearer picture of what we may be facing. And facing soon.

Thankfully, there will be a review and public input before FEMA Maps becomes legislation. Our elected officials can’t go to sleep on this.

The Army Corps is protecting us from the outside but onerous flood insurance can destroy us from within. So here’s the rub: the flood didn’t destroy Rockaway but flood insurance might.

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