The Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 (BW12), which sought to reform the nation’s nearly bankrupt National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) by ending federal subsidies for insuring buildings in flood-prone areas, led to changes in how the NFIP determined flood insurance rates. Congress later modified BW12 through the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014. (This blog has covered how that law will repeal or delay many of the key provisions of BW12.) Despite the substantial changes and reversals, many property owners will still see flood insurance rate increases.
In addition, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will continue to identify and publish special flood hazards and flood risk zones. FEMA has led a major effort to update the nation’s Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) with new zone designations and Base Flood Elevations (BFEs) for many communities. As FEMA releases these new maps, thousands of property owners have learned that their home or business is now located in a Special Flood Hazard Area or that their property’s flood risk zone designation has increased.
New FIRM is Successfully Revised in Quincy, MA
In June 2014, FEMA established a new FIRM for the City of Quincy that added 1,400 properties to the flood plain and raised risk rates for about 2,700 properties already in the plain. The new flood map would equate to significantly higher flood insurance premiums for those property owners.
The City felt that FEMA’s new maps overstated the extent of possible future flood hazards in many neighborhoods, so the City decided to work with FEMA to modify, or correct, all six of the City’s FIRM panels.
Woodard & Curran helped the City of Quincy create and execute a multi-level approach to addressing the new FIRM. The first and primary level was to draft a Citywide Letter of Map Revision (LOMR), which is a letter that details how, according to FEMA, physical measures “affect the hydrologic or hydraulic characteristics of a flooding source and thus result in the modification of the existing regulatory floodway, the effective BFEs, or the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA).”
As a result of the LOMR, the City won their appeal to FEMA to move hundreds of properties in Quincy out of the flood plain and lower the flood zone risk for over 1,000 properties. In December 2014, FEMA agreed with the scientific and technical data submitted in the LOMR and initiated the process to correct all six of Quincy’s coastal FIRM panels. The basis for these successful map changes was a demonstration of how FEMA’s Boston Harbor still water elevations should be modified, an expanded approach to wave modeling, and how sea walls, tide gates, marshes, and other features lessen storm surge and flood impacts in Quincy.
The second level of Quincy’s strategy was to use FEMA’s process to incorporate local data into the flood-hazard depictions for the areas they map through individual property Letters of Map Amendment (LOMAs). To that end, Woodard & Curran and the City individually assisted approximately 1,800 property owners seeking LOMAs by providing Elevation Certificates, firmettes, and on-call support to homeowners.
Community Rating System (CRS) Program Yields Premium Discounts
The third level of strategy was to better leverage the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System (CRS). Quincy is one of a dozen communities in Massachusetts that participate in the CRS program—a voluntary incentive program that provides flood insurance premium discounts to residents in communities that demonstrate efforts to mitigate flood impacts and implement comprehensive floodplain management. Quincy residents currently qualify for a 10 percent discount on flood insurance premiums, collectively saving constituents an estimated $350,000 per year. The City is working with Woodard & Curran to gain additional CRS program credits to increase that discount in the future.
Quincy’s experience highlights the range of possible actions for communities and individual property owners to correct FEMA’s revised maps and address higher flood insurance. Proper strategy and a deep understanding of FEMA’s regulatory processes regarding the determination of flood zone designations and/or BFEs on a FIRM was the key to success.