NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

December 7, 2013

Tierney: Legislators want flood insurance study

BY DYKE HENDRICKSON
STAFF WRITER

---- — NEWBURYPORT — U.S. Rep. John Tierney, D-Salem, yesterday said that many federal elected officials are battling to hold back the tide of new regulations from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that will result in sharply higher federal flood insurance rates.

And Tierney said that local communities can do their part by appealing new FEMA flood maps that could add to the higher costs.

Tierney made his remarks yesterday at a breakfast meeting organized by the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

He addressed new FEMA regulations perpetuated by the Biggert-Waters Act of 2012, which essentially call for owners of properties near marsh, rivers and ocean to pay more for flood insurance, if the property is mortgaged.

It came about because extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy were wiping out federal emergency reserves, but such an act poses serious challenges for those on the North Shore, according to local legislators.

Insurance rates could increase by as much as ten-fold, and hundreds of properties have been added to the “at risk” areas on new FEMA maps.

Tierney yesterday said federal legislators from coastal areas are battling the implementation of the new measures. The new insurance rates were scheduled to start Oct. 1, 2013 but Tierney said that has been delayed.

“For residential, the start date is October 2014,” Tierney said. “And we are working to have part of the Biggert-Waters reviewed.”

Tierney said that as part of that act, there was supposed to be a study of how risk is calculated, and how an equitable system could be created.

“They didn’t do the study because they said they had no resources, but we are working to get that study done” and introduce fairness into the program, he said.

Tierney, a onetime Chamber of Commerce president in his hometown, added that leaders of local communities should look into the appeal process built into the Biggert-Waters legislation.

“At the same time as Biggert-Waters, FEMA upgraded their maps,” Tierney said. “They did it by flying over certain areas, and altering maps based on new technology” from the air.

“Communities can appeal these maps, and I have talked to some local leaders who are doing this so that local property owners get fair treatment,” he said.

He indicated he has spoken with Mayor Donna Holaday about what procedures can be used to review and/or appeal new maps, which in some cases have included property hundreds of yards from water.

On a separate topic, Tierney said that there might be a thawing of partisan politics in Washington so that useful legislation can be passed.

“There are elements in Washington that don’t want to get anything done,” said Tierney, who is serving his ninth two-year term. “Call them Young Guns or Tea Party people but they want to block everything.

“But if you are in government you are there to make things better, to pass laws that help people who need it. They aren’t doing that.”

Tierney said that in recent weeks, Republicans and Democrats have been showing more cooperation on bi-partisan issues.

Tierney, however, made no sweeping predictions on how long this period of good feeling might last, or what might be accomplished in the coming year.