By Tim Pallesen
Coastal cities are studying new flood maps to know how many residents will be paying much higher premiums for flood insurance.
Reforms to the federal flood insurance program raise premiums, phase out subsidies and call for a redrawing of flood maps that might put more homes in high-risk zones.
Owners of winter homes who received subsidies started paying higher rates Jan. 1. Beginning this month, buyers purchasing a previously subsidized home must pay the higher premium.
Owners of primary residences will learn whether they also must pay annual rate increases of 20 percent for five years once new flood zone maps are approved next year.
Officials in coastal communities are trying to decipher preliminary flood-zone maps now. “So far, nobody can figure it out,” Ocean Ridge Town Manager Ken Schenck said.
Dick Tomasello, an engineer hired by the county to compare old and new flood maps along the coast, said many oceanfront homes have been moved into the highest-risk zone. Flood insurance rates will reflect damage that might occur in a hurricane if sea walls and sand dunes are washed away.
“The entire coast shows that the zone has moved inland,” Tomasello said. “Flood insurance is going to be more expensive.”
The Palm Beach County League of Cities has assembled a team of engineers to dispute what executive director Richard Radcliffe described as “grave inaccuracies” in preliminary new maps.
“Until those challenges are laid to rest, the town of Gulf Stream is not able to accurately comment on the effect of the revised flood maps,” Town Manager William Thrasher said.
Manalapan Mayor David Cheifetz said his town also is reviewing the maps to determine the impact.
Congress passed the insurance reforms last year to reduce a $20 billion debt in the program caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Hurricane Sandy increased the debt.
The reforms target older homes built at lower elevations before the original flood zone maps were drawn 30 years ago. Newer construction has been built at higher elevations.
Mortgage lenders require flood insurance if a property is within a high-risk flood zone. The policies pay a maximum $250,000 loss.
Gov. Rick Scott warned last month that real estate sales could be hampered in parts of Florida because of the higher insurance rates.
“In cases where new maps move a property into a flood zone, homeowners may find it impossible to sell their properties to a new owner who will be shocked with the massive premium increases required to secure a mortgage,” Scott wrote Florida’s two U.S. senators.
Sen. Bill Nelson agreed in a letter to other senators. “The national flood insurance won’t do much good if it turns out folks cannot afford the coverage,” Nelson wrote.

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