Flood Map Source of Confusion

Posted on 19 February 2009

The recent implementation of new flood maps by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is confusing for homeowners, as well as village and town officials. Many have found their threat of flooding has been reduced, while others find they are newly in a flood zone.

Jeff Sander, a North Haven Village resident, was in a high-risk zone for flooding before the new maps were issued last November, but now his home has been moved to a lower-risk zone, like many property owners in Sag Harbor.

Sander said he received a notice from the Town of Southampton suggesting he look online at the new maps. In that letter the town intended to inform residents that there have been some changes to the flood zones and recommended residents decide if they wanted to purchase flood insurance prior to the adoption of the final maps, “due to certain grandfathering provisions.”

Sander is one of many in the area still struggling to find out what that will mean when he gets the insurance bill he is expecting in the next couple months.

Last week, Southampton Town Stormwater Manager Walter Bundy, at the request of councilwoman Nancy Graboski, held a meeting with representatives of FEMA, regarding the new Federal Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) in order to ask for some clarification and an extension of the February 4, 2009 deadline for appeals. At the meeting, it was decided that appeals for homeowners will be extended to next Wednesday, February 25.

Sag Harbor village planner Richard Warren said in an email to Sagaponack village officials, that the FEMA representatives at last week’s meeting will be taking some of the concerns from the local municipalities back to Washington for further discussion, and that more public outreach might be necessary, “especially with insurance carriers.”

“It takes us two years to process a 10-lot subdivision,” Graboski said during a work session prior to that meeting, “We have a significant comprehensive project so that is really not enough time.”

Many people like Sander who live on the water, seem to have been spared, according to George Simonson, an insurance agent in Sag Harbor.

Simonson said the village received “better zones that they deserved.” He said there are fewer homes in the high elevation flood zones now than there were before the new FEMA maps in November.

Simonson said the cost of federal flood insurance for one year should be around $352 or “almost a dollar a day.” That, he said, would cover up to $250,000 for a single home and $100,000 of the contents.

The problem with that, he explained, is that most of the homes on or near the shoreline in the area are valued much higher than $250,000. He said homeowners who want their full home covered would need to take out additional insurance through excess and surplus lines markets, for example through Lloyds of London.

Those who live in the flood plain, explained Aram Terchunian, a Coastal Geologist for First Coastal out of Westhampton Beach, usually carry four types of insurance: flood, excess coverage (for the remaining value of the home over $250,000), wind and storm insurance, and homeowners insurance.

He said for homeowners who would now be included in the flood zone, the flood insurance premium will stay the same or be reduced, but the three other types of insurances are “likely to increase.”

Sander said that even though his home has been taken from the highest risk zone and moved back into a lower risk zone, and the insurance is not required, he will maintain his coverage.

Simonson said the cost of insurance for those living in Sag Harbor should go down, or, at the very least, remain the same as it was before the new maps.

Eileen Kenna, a Shinnecock Hills resident, received the same notice as Sander. She said that her home wasn’t in a flood zone before and by looking at the maps online, her home still remains outside the flood plain line.

“I went on the website and I am not in the flood zone,” Kenna said, “So I am not going to get flood insurance.”

Kenna said that just a few years ago, her homeowners insurance was dropped because her home is near a flood plain. Fortunately, she said, she was able to obtain new homeowners insurance from an alternative company.

“They messed up in New Orleans, when the hurricane hit,” she said, “so now they are doing all this to cover themselves.”

Simonson agrees. He said now, in that portion of the country, there are some discrepancies over who is going to cover the homes that were affected by flooding.

Now FEMA is attempting to avoid a similar incident happening on Long Island, if such a situation should occur.

Sag Harbor village planner, Rich Warren said he believes the issues are complex, and he is certain there will be “more to come.”


You can check your property at www.suffolknyfloodmaps.com.


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One Response to “Flood Map Source of Confusion”

  1. Al Surink says:

    If MR Simonson can get anybody flood insurance for “a dollar a day” his office should be swamped. The reality is that 382 residents of Sag Harbor are paying an average of $1,046 annually for flood insurance. Compared to the national average of just $524 dollars. That alone doesn’t tell you much until you also take into account the size of th average claim and the amount of average annual losses.

    There have been 74 flood claims paid over the last 31 years in Sag Harbor with an average of $8,637 per claim. The national average per claim is $27,912.

    The average annual losses in Sag Harbor amount to $20,618 dollars. FEMA’s goal is to collect premiums equal to twice the amount of annual losses. The 382 current policy holders are collectively paying $399,413 anually. That is just short of 10 times FEMA’s goal.

    I agree that having flood insurance is a good idea. I live in a community with similar losses and premiums. However, with average claim amounts of around $8,000 dollars and community wide total annual losses of around $20,000 you have to ask yourself is a $1,000 premium a fair deal.

    There are two major problems that contribute to this inequity. The first is the position of the current director of the National Flood Insurance Program. Who appears to be consumed by getting, and forcing, more homeowners into purchasing flood insurance. To accomplish that goal they have encouraged local officials to add “a foot or more” to the Base Flood Elevation (BFE). Justifying that by wanting to “discourage” further developement in areas that might be susceptable to flooding. What they neglect to mention is that the higher the BFE the higher the premium.

    And the second problem is the accuracy of the Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM). Two recent studies by The National Research Service show that practically all data used to create FIRMS does not meet FEMA’s own standards for accuracy.
    Those two studies are “Elevation Data for Floodplain Mapping, 2007″ and “Mapping the Zone; Improving Flood map Accuracy, 2009). For those that do not have the time to read these technical documents, I have taken key comments and put them on my website.

    Maybe Mr Simonson can convince FEMA and the NFIP to set rates that have some actuarially correct relationship between premiums and risk. In which case, the residents in Sag Harbor, and my community, would on average pay $300 rather than $1,000 dollars each. I wish him all the success.

    Al Surink

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