, Newburyport, MA


October 2, 2013

Our view: delays needed in federal flood insurance plan

It’s been a year since Congress initially passed a National Flood Insurance Reform Act, but the financial cost of this major policy shift is finally coming home to roost.

The administering Federal Emergency Management Agency has reached out to hold some informational meetings about redrawn flood plain maps designed to supposedly account for new flooding projections based on rising seas in the years and decades ahead.

Indeed, one such session, geared toward Essex County coastal residents, was held Monday at the Lynn City Hall Auditorium. It was well attended by area residents who are concerned about the impact of this change.

But Congressman John Tierney and state officials, including House Speaker Robert DeLeo, are right to push for more time before the new flood plain maps, new insurance reforms and, indeed, new rates for some properties due to take effect Oct 1. While urging FEMA to step up its efforts to inform homeowners and businesses of the reforms, the letter more importantly calls for adequate funding for the National Academy of Sciences to complete an affordability study, as mandated by the law.

The insurance reform measure is well-targeted. It should, over time, make the National Flood Insurance Program “more financially stable,” according to FEMA, and will rightfully phase out some artificially low rates and discounts that have historically been subsidized by the government. In a nutshell, taxpayers have been subsidizing the insuring of homes along some of the most vulnerable stretches of the nation’s coastline. It’s a policy that needs to be phased out. People who choose to live on the shoreline, at a time when sea levels are rising and the intensity of coastal storms is predicted to increase, should assume the risk of their decision.

But if it spikes insurance rates for coastal homes upward from $200 a month to $1,000, as local J Barrett Realtor Amy Wallick noted for one listed North Shore property, that could have chilling effects on local property values, home sales and the overall economies of our local coastline, in particular Plum Island.

Redrawn risk maps and soaring insurance rates are surprises that neither homeowners nor businesses need.

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