Flood insurance costs at heart of SAPD offer

National Flood Insurance Program rates set to rise

DUNCANSVILLE — The Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission is offering to assist municipalities to help property owners living in flood-vulnerable areas to reduce their insurance costs — as premium subsidies ebb and eventually disappear.

Regional planner Joe Saxfield has contacted Alexandria, Everett and Hyndman and last week spoke at a meeting of Borough Council here, where 81 households are in the National Flood Insurance Program — 12 percent of all the households in the borough.

Based on the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, all property owners in the program nationally will be paying “actuarial” or market rates — reflecting the full risk of flood insurance by 2024, Saxfield told council.

It behooves municipalities to reduce those risks where possible, to minimize the burden on vulnerable owners, he said.

If a municipality is interested, it sets up a task force to figure out what to do, according to Saxfield.

The goal is “resiliency and mitigation,” he said after the meeting.

“A lot would be on the educational end,” he said. That could mean workshops, with subjects including self-assessment, he said.

The commission also could help municipalities seek grants; enter the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System, which can lead to premium reductions; or arrange for project contracts, he said.

Paying premiums based on full risk can put a property financially underwater, according to Saxfield.

Some premiums have gone higher than mortgage payments, leading owners to “abandon ship,” he said.

In those situations, properties tend to remain abandoned, because no one will want to buy them, he said.

The first step for interested municipalities is to set up a public meeting to solicit task force members, Saxfield said.

There is cost for accepting the commission’s help, he said.

Borough consulting engineer Tom Levine spoke on a related matter, suggesting that the borough consider the potential for revising its flood maps, which can be changed if experts prove that a building denoted as vulnerable to a 100-year flood is actually safe.

“The only way we can challenge the maps is to spend the energy or get someone to spend the energy,” Levine said.

The borough might do well to act on the suggestions of both men, said council President Jeff Wolfe afterward.

Saxfield is visiting municipalities in the six-county area in the order of their percentage of households in the flood insurance program, starting with the most vulnerable.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.