2013-09-27 / Front Page

A Civic Duty

Rally On Saturday Is For All
By Kevin Boyle

It’s already a law. And now comes the bill. But first, there’s a rally. There’s a rally to repeal, amend or delay the law known as the Biggert-Waters Act, the law that permits FEMA to charge as much as $30,000 a year in flood insurance premiums.

The communities of Rockaway, from Breezy Point to Far Rockaway, Broad Channel and Howard Beach, are coming together this Saturday, September 28th at noon in the geographic middle, Broad Channel, to let Congress and the rest of the country know that Biggert-Waters will cripple communities everywhere.

“I really believe this rally is a civic duty. It’s something that affects us all. This isn’t like the boardwalk where everybody’s got an opinion. We all agree this law has to be changed,” David Fortunoff of Belle Harbor said.

Organizers believe there is strength in numbers. They are hoping residents make the short trip to the American Legion Hall at 209 Cross Bay Boulevard for a demonstration of unity. A large turnout, they say, will draw media attention and force elected officials to get to work and fix the unintended consequences of the Biggert-Waters Act.

“If people don’t get this issue, I don’t know what to tell you. They’ve got to come out for this rally,” a Rockaway Beach resident said at a recent Community Board meeting.

Biggert-Waters is designed to fund the National Flood Insurance Program by removing all subsidies from flood policies. But even one of the co-authors of the bill, Representative Maxine Waters has said, “Such large increases were never intended when Congress moved to overhaul the flood insurance program to make it more sustainable.”

Sticker shock will start to occur for some in just a few days, October 1st. For others, the shock will come when New York City adopts the new flood maps FEMA issued in the spring. To be sure, if nothing is done, the shock will reverberate all over the city. Homeowners, renters, and businesses – and who else is there? —— will feel something more than a pinch.

The only way the law will change – the only way FEMA can be stopped is with Congressional effort. Lawmakers, some of whom have admitted passing the law was a mistake, have to move swiftly to repeal, amend, or delay Biggert Waters.

It’s a national issue. All fifty states have “A Zones” which are flood hazard areas. These areas are susceptible to flood insurance premiums that could cost as much as $30,000 per year. Most states, however, have not awoken to this coming disaster. Most states don’t know these rates are coming because FEMA has done little outreach; some elected officials are not aware of the rate increases; and the media in other parts of the country have simply not picked up on the story of this looming disaster.

Sandy helped New York and New Jersey become aware sooner than other states. The fact is, the consequences of the law were coming whether or not Sandy ever occurred. The law was passed more than four months before the storm. New York and New Jersey, however, were given advance notice of the skyrocketing rates because advisory flood maps and insurance rates were issued by FEMA so that homeowners could take into consideration the new rates as they rebuilt from the storm.

Even with the release of the new crushing rates, few homeowners were aware of just what FEMA (which runs the National Flood Insurance Program) had done. The news did not register with people who were busy rebuilding their homes and trying to get their lives back to some sort of normalcy.

Elected officials were no more aware than the public of what FEMA had unleashed. City officials, Senator Schumer, Congressman Gregory Meeks, and Congressman Peter King, all admitted to being blindsided by the new rates. When FEMA and the insurance industry pushed for the removal of subsidies and grandfather clauses, they did so without revealing to Congress just how steep rates were going to be.

The Wave reported on the implications of the new rates in a front page editorial in March of this year. Following that, many residents took to the phones and internet to get after elected officials to do something about flood insurance. Efforts by the representatives, so far, have yielded no progress in repealing, amending, or delaying the Biggert- Waters Act.

The rally in Broad Channel is part of the Stop FEMA Now movement which began in New Jersey. Founder George Kasimos of Tom’s River said nine states are holding rallies to draw attention to the law that starts to show its teeth on October 1st. Kasimos said, “FEMA got their maps wrong. They’re getting insurance wrong, too. They’ve got to be stopped.”

Organizers, which include members of several neighborhoods, said more information will be available at the rally. They said guest speakers will be limited to two or three minutes. The important thing, they said, was for people to simply show up.

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