Meadville Tribune

Local News

March 29, 2014

Locals in floodplains affected by insurance increases

Crawford County lacks the rest of the state and country’s rampant outrage due to recent legislation allowing a gradual increase in government-mandated flood insurance costs. That being said, local residents and business owners located in floodplains will be affected.

Most county cities, boroughs and townships encompassing floodplain areas are expected to see between 33 and 75 percent of their policies experience premium increases.

The increases could translate into hundreds or possibly thousands of additional dollars paid annually by residents and business owners in several areas, including Cambridge Springs, Centerville, Cochranton, Conneautville, Hydetown, Meadville, Saegertown, Springboro, Titusville, Venango and West Mead Township.

“We’ve received residents come in who weren’t in the floodplain and are now getting charged a rate, an astronomical amount in the (flood)plain,” said Arlene Rodriguez, assistant director of the Crawford County Planning Commission. “People still in the plain are having rates go up and are trying to get that overruled.”

The Planning Commission has seen more than 100 walk-ins or calls within the past two years related to the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of July 2012.

While the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014 repealed and modified that legislation just this month, a considerable rise in insurance rates is still anticipated.

As many as 1.1 million policyholders throughout the country, including more than 34,400 in Pennsylvania, with subsidized government insurance will still be hit with steady rate increases. While no one is sure yet how high rates will go, there is cause for worry in cities and towns that rely on affordable policies to keep businesses afloat and prop up the local housing market.

But at least 820,000 homeowners nationally will still get hit with rate increases of up to 18 percent each year until the program is collecting enough revenue to cover a $24 billion shortfall created by a series of catastrophic storms. Owners of another quarter million businesses or second homes throughout the U.S. will see their rates rise 25 percent each year, until their premiums reach rates that match the true risk of flooding.

At this point, the few calls coming into Crawford County borough and township offices from residents mainly pertain to floodplain certifications — people making absolute sure they’re required to pay what they’re told to pay, according to Jill Dunlap, West Mead Township secretary, and Barb Opatrny, borough manager and secretary for Cochranton.

“We don’t have flood insurance for the township per se,” Dunlap said. “So we haven’t been affected in that regard with costs going up.”

Dunlap recalled a few inquiries, but she said residents deal directly with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood program rather than their municipality.

Though no one has come forward to lodge a complaint with the borough, according to Opatrny, Cochranton is one of the areas where residents were re-zoned into floodplains within the past five years.

Other areas like Venango and Woodcock Township haven’t had any major impact facing their residents as far as local officials are aware.

Allen Clark, director of the Crawford County Emergency Management Agency, said FEMA conducts the studies identifying where floodplains exist and, through zoning ordinances, try to lessen the buildup of facilities that could be affected in a given area.

“Flood insurance is important to have, like any other insurance,” Clark said, noting the tendency for some areas to experience repetitive flooding.

He also mentioned the potential of flooding mitigation funding in areas that may experience frequent incidents and subsequently see bigger payouts.

“It’s cheaper nowadays to buy out a property and turn it into a park or something other than for a resident to stay there and be flooded periodically,” Clark said. “Unfortunately, waterways, rivers, creeks, etc., were the main routes of transportation in the (1700s) and 1800s, so most of our communities are built around those creeks and rivers.”

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