Flood insurance pays out $41 million
By Bruce Edwards
STAFF WRITER | August 26,2012
Nearly $41 million in insurance claims has been paid out to cover damage Vermonters suffered during Tropical Storm Irene.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency also reported an increase in flood insurance policies along with additional towns that have enrolled in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
As of June 30, the program had paid out $40.9 million to Vermonters covering 832 claims. To put that in perspective, prior to Irene and the spring flooding of last year, from 1978 through 2010, there were 1,134 claims in Vermont totaling $7.9 million, said Rob Evans, the state’s river corridor and flood plain manager.
Post-Irene, the state has seen a nearly 17 percent increase in the number of flood insurance policies issued. The number of polices increased from 3,665 policies as of Aug. 31 last year to 4,284 as of June 30.
However, before a homeowner or business can purchase a policy under the National Flood Insurance Program, their community must be enrolled in the program.
To date, 235 Vermont communities are participating in the program, nine more than a year ago. It leaves 32 communities that are not in the program.
To qualify, communities must meet minimum zoning and building standards to mitigate flooding, which can limit development or make it more costly to build in flood prone areas.
“On one hand, you can argue that’s a good thing and what come with that is the availability of flood insurance for folks,” Evans said. “And it does cover flood-related erosion, it does cover flood events outside of federally mapped flood plains.”
Evans said enrolled communities also become eligible for FEMA disaster assistance and mitigation grants to prevent future flood damage.
But Evans also said for some communities not being in the program has its advantages.
He said banks require anyone planning to build in a flood plain to have flood insurance.
“By virtue of flood insurance not being available, it’s a disincentive to developing and protects those flood plain areas,” he said, adding that some communities go beyond the federal minimums and enact higher standards.
FEMA defines a high-risk, or special flood-hazard area, as having a one-in-four chance of flooding during a 30-year mortgage.
Evans said most communities in the state not in the program are clustered in the Northeast Kingdom.
Further south in Rutland County, Killington is among the towns not participating in the flood insurance program.
Although much of the town is situated at a higher elevation, Killington suffered some significant damage. There was a partial collapse of the K-1 base lodge at Killington Resort. The storm also caused significant damage in the town along Route 4.
In the aftermath of the storm, the town revisited the flood insurance issue but again opted not to participate.
“No plans at this time,” said Richard Horner, Killington’s planner and zoning administrator. “We discussed it with the Planning Commission a couple of weeks ago and they’ve decided not to pursue it.”
Horton said the commission concluded that FEMA’s regulations are too burdensome and that flood insurance would benefit only a few people or businesses in town.
After dropping out 32 years ago, Isle La Motte is completing the process to participate in the federal program.
Paul Hinman, the town’s interim NFIP officer, said the town found itself without flood insurance following the May flooding of last year, which caused significant damage.
“It was my understanding we dropped out of the program in 1980 because the town at that time failed to adopt the FEMA (flood) mapping,” Hinman said, “and it’s been pretty much a non-issue since then.”
Even before the spring flood of 2011, he said he had urged the town to enroll in the program. Hinman said a number of residents living in a flood plain area could not obtain bank financing without flood insurance.
For cities and towns not in the program, private flood insurance is available but the cost for homeowners and businesses can be prohibitive, Evans said.
Nationwide, approximately 21,000 communities participate in the NFIP, covering more than 5.5 million people.
According to FEMA, more than 25 percent of claims paid nationwide are from medium- or low-risk flooding areas. National flood insurance in those areas can cost as little as $129 per year for a building and its contents.
And while FEMA puts the average cost of residential flood insurance at $600 a year, coverage is significantly higher for someone living in a flood plain.
The annual premium on a $150,000 home with $50,000 worth of contents is $1,695. On a $250,000 home and $100,000 in contents, the average annual premium is $2,930.
Renters can insure personal property for up to $100,000.
Since 1973, the national program has paid out claims totaling $40 billion.