The current authorization of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is set to expire on September 30. Flood insurance rates have been rising since 2013 and will continue to increase. That is why Lee County strongly supports re-authorization legislation that includes enhanced affordability measures and flood mapping reforms. The Board of County Commissioners has long been advocating for continuation of flood insurance discounts and more local control over the flood mapping process.
On May 25, the House Financial Services Committee draft bill proposal was released in the form of six separate bills addressing various aspects of NFIP re-authorization.
Draft NFIP re-authorization language suggest that rates would be based on specific “structural risk,” rather than on flood zone categories. That means property owners will be assessed according to whether their first livable floor meets the base flood elevation (BFE) that FEMA established for that neighborhood. The BFE is the height to which flood levels might rise in a major storm. General estimates are that property owners’ annual premiums could cost about $1,200 for every foot their floor is below the BFE. In Lee County, thousands of elevated structures built to modern building codes and previous flood map standards that may not meet BFEs set with new maps in 2008. For this reason, Lee County urges Congress to retain “grandfathering” discounts that protect built-to-compliance structures from paying these penalties. This is also, why local quality control over flood mapping and the establishment of BFEs is imperative.
In essence, we must demand accurate BFE mapping. Our participation at a local level require we have a seat at the table when drawing the new maps and asking for more flexibility in what the private insurance sector can offer as alternatives to the NFIP.
Accurate maps depicting BFE – meaning how high the first livable floor needs to be in order to avoid damage from a storm are critical. The cost of flood insurance depends on the accuracy of these maps. All coastlines are different – if these models are inaccurate, costs can be unfairly inflated. While we would never allow our residents to live in unsafe conditions, we believe our local flood plain managers know when the risks have changed. Allowing their expert opinion will work better than the current ‘one size fits all’ approach.
Private Sector Flood Insurance – the NFIP bases all of their rates on storm prediction modules including factors such as Tsunami’s and sea level rise. Instead, private sector companies base their rates on the history of actual claims made for each individual structure. While we recognize that government standards need to be in place, we would like property owners to have more freedom to choose a different program than only the one NFIP offers. We would also like people to be able to move back and forth between sectors without suffering a penalty. We have made considerable progress at the local level. Both Lee and Charlotte counties have hired consultants to work with FEMA on new coastal maps being created for all Gulf-front areas. For the first time in history, we are being allowed to review their work. They are making changes to the preliminary maps based on our suggestions.
At the federal level, this week, Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass met with legislators in D.C. to share our concerns. He reports that Congressman Rooney understands that Florida has for decades been paying way more into the system than it takes out in claims and is committed to finding fair and affordable options for Floridians. Also, two bills are being introduced this year to clarify that flood insurance offered by a private carrier does meet the mandatory purchase requirement – allowing private insurers to sell flood policies like the NFIP.
The bottom line is that we understand that the system needs to be improved, but we know there’s a better way to do it. You should be aware of your personal circumstances and involve your local representation with your concerns.
Larry Kiker is the District 3 Commissioner of Lee Board of County Commissioners. Contact him at email@example.com or 239-533-22