Flood insurance on the rise: Examining skyrocketing rates

By Owen Wells - owells@civitasmedia.com

LOGAN — The unique topography of southern W.Va. has dictated a somewhat steady regime of flooding events.

In Logan County, the confluences of streams from Island Creek, Copperas Fork and Mud Fork into the Guyandotte River as well as myriad other streams and waterways have presented a constant challenge for residents.

Over the last year, fema.gov reports there were five disaster declarations in W.Va., and three of the five included flooding-related events in Logan County.

In response to continued problem in Logan County, local and state governments have addressed the issue with mitigation projects at Garrets Fork, Island Creek, Deskins Addition and Copperas Fork.

Despite the continued efforts to reduce the risk of flooding in Logan County, many people in the area are reportedly experiencing hikes in their flood insurance premiums by as much as 300 to 400 percent.

At least one Logan County home is reportedly paying around $5,000 a year for flood insurance.

In the quest of solutions, a roundtable discussion was held in the Logan County Commission office Jan. 6.

The meeting included W.Va. State Sen. Art Kirkendoll; Logan County Commissioner Danny Ellis; Logan County Administrator Rocky Adkins; Jenna Jeffrey, representative for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin; Michael Browning, representative for U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin; Chad Story, representative for Congressman Evan Jenkins; Richard Kirk, with the state of W.Va.; Kevin Stead, W.Va. Flood Insurance Coordinator; Amanda Star, Mingo County floodplain manager, Jim Steele, with the flood warning division of the W.Va. Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management; Ray Perry, Logan County floodplain administrator and Rich Mazio and Tom Rayburn from Robinson Engineering.

Kirkendoll opened the discussion by positing, “Numerous times I’ve had Mr. Rayburn go out when we would have somebody looking for a flood elevation certificate, and these numbers are not right. It’s time that somebody sit down and try to do something to fix what is wrong. The public is getting the nod and it’s not a good nod.”

Kirkendoll presented the meeting with the insurance bills of two homes from the Garret’s Fork area of Logan County — an area where mitigation projects have been completed.

Although both homes had not had a claim since 2003 and are situated in the same geographic area, one paid $1900 and year and the other $4,675. “These people’s insurance policies went up and we fixed the creek,” added Kirkendoll.

Much of the meeting focused on the need for prospective homeowners and people wishing to refinance their homes to carry flood insurance; however, while everyone at the meeting concurred with that directive, many took issue with the process that reportedly employs the use of inaccurate maps to draw the floodplains.

Under the current system, homeowners who feel their homes are situated outside of floodplains are forced to challenge the maps by privately obtaining a flood elevation certificate.

Rayburn and Mazio proceeded to use a virtual mapping software provided by FEMA to show the inaccuracies in the system.

The tool allows users to show three dimensional satellite images of FEMA floodplain maps.

Those maps can then be virtually flooded to different elevations.

Rayburn and Mazio were able to give several examples where homes currently marked as being in a floodplain would not flood at the water level set by FEMA.

Stead explained situations where homes are inaccurately marked on floodplain maps are handled on a case by case basis and that homeowners are financially liable for paying for a private survey to determine their flood elevation.

People who wish to buy a home or get an equity loan are required to carry flood insurance; however, problems arise when inaccurate maps are used to determine flood plains.

Mazio quoted a FEMA report showing that mapping of the area was completed in 1984.

Adkins explained a situation where he assisted a homeowner in the Mud Fork area of Logan County who attempting to get a loan. Because of inaccurate mapping, the homeowner was forced to pay over $1,000 to get a flood elevation certificate to prove he was 50 feet above the floodplain.

In search of a solution, discussion then turned to remapping. Stead explained remapping is an expensive process and that each tile on the map will cost $50,000. It was estimated that Logan County could contain from 50 to 100 tiles.

The possibility of a state code requiring insurers to use the state of West Virginia’s virtual flood tool was mentioned.

Stead also added there are opportunities to remap areas using funds that come from disaster declarations.

The two hour meeting ended with time for input and discussion of the next steps to be taken.

There was general agreement that the information exchanged between the separate agencies and departments in the meeting was valuable and the next steps would likely be examining a remapping program and having further meetings on the issue.

By Owen Wells


Owen Wells is a reporter for Civitas Media. He can be reached at 304-752-6950 ext. 1729 or by email at owells@civitasmedia.com.

Owen Wells is a reporter for Civitas Media. He can be reached at 304-752-6950 ext. 1729 or by email at owells@civitasmedia.com.

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