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Paradise council decides – reluctantly – to join flood insurance program

November 18th, 2011 Posted in Opinion

By D. Whitney Smith

PARADISE — Mayor Leland Howlett says he believes FEMA has unfairly and inaccurately mapped dozens of properties inside a flood-risk area that doesn’t exist.

Residents voiced concerns at a special public hearing Nov. 16, some of them urging the Town Council to apply for a federal program designed to subsidize the high price of flood insurance.

“They’ve determined that there’s some kind of a risk for floods,” Howlett said at the hearing. “Based on that, the lending institutions, the insurance companies, have all been working together to make sure that if you have a mortgage, that you have flood insurance.”

The council set the public hearing after it was notified that 29 homes and 32 vacant properties were part of a new flood zone, forcing dozens of residents to purchase flood insurance as expensive as $8,500 per year unless the town votes to join the National Flood Insurance Program.

Immediately after the hearing, Howlett and council members Jay Rinderknecht and Kyle Smith met as a quorum and reluctantly voted to move forward with the application process to join the NFI — a three-step process that includes an application, resolution and land ordinance.

Jason Summers, a resident of Paradise whose home is currently inside the updated flood-risk zone, said he’s been working independently for more than a year to figure out a way to get his property outside of the flood zone — a process he said is expensive at first but could save him thousands of dollars in the long run.

“The last map revision in Paradise was 1976,” Summers said. “If you look at that map, there’s no area in Paradise corporate city limits considered inside a flood zone.”

In 2009-2010, the Federal Emergency Management Agency recently updated flood maps for communities all over Cache Valley, which led to several towns and cities joining the NFIP. A unique year for heightened levels of rain, snow and flooding has led to increased concerns regarding the dangers and cost of flooding.

Fewer than 1 percent of Utah communities are not part of the NFIP, said John Crofts, NFIP program coordinator for the State of Utah Department of Public Safety. As soon as communities join, Crofts said, opportunities become available to save money and receive help from the federal government.

“There’s a funding (advantage) with this,” Crofts said. “Rich County (for example) does not have approximate flood plane maps — they have no flood plane maps. They still participate in the National Flood Insurance Program, because they want to get the benefits of being able to have flood insurance if they want to.”

Summers, who hired his own engineer to advise him on how to alter his property to de-categorize it from being a flood risk, said one of the only other options to paying high insurance rates is to get the flood-zone map amended, which could cost the town $20,000-$30,000.

The council has discussed this option, but Howlett said he thinks at this point it’s important to at least apply for the NFIP.

“It’s starting to hit some of you guys in the pocketbook,” Howlett told residents at the hearing. “I’ve talked to a number of you, and we realize (it’s) a very real situation, so that’s why we immediately put together a draft resolution, draft ordinance and wanted to sit here and visit with you.”

Howlett said he feels the council and town residents are “bent over a barrel” in this situation and have no choice but to vote to join the NFIP. He said the program is billed as voluntary and free, but he disagrees with both of these claims.

“From the tone of my letter I sent out,” Howlett said, “I think I let you realize that we’re not crazy about the idea that they’re billing private residents extra for insurance to try to get a local government to take action based on a federal decision.”

Rinderknecht initially expressed the desire to delay the vote to research other options.

“The problem is it’s not a pinch, it’s a gouge,” he said.

Smith said he knows a good deal about the program and even though he’s not crazy about joining the program, at this point the longer it takes to sign up for the program, the longer townspeople will have to pay $5,600-$8,500 per year for flood insurance.

As participants in the NFIP, residents can receive policies for roughly $1,100 per year, Summers said in the public hearing.

“I think the only option in the near term is to pile on and go do it,” Howlett said, “see if we can get some state (or) federal help and get an engineering study done to get it figured out better. I really do want to know the answer.”


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