Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Whitfield addresses “The Flood Map Around America”

by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
Webster County residents concerned over proposed FEMA flood maps gathered at the court house in Dixon last Wednesday morning for a meeting with Congressman Ed Whitfield. In fact, so many residents turned out that the meeting had to be moved from the Fiscal Court’s normal meeting chamber to the old Webster County courtroom on the third floor of the court house.
“We are all here because of flood plain maps that FEMA has come out with,” said Webster County Judge Executive Jim Townsend. “I had the opportunity the week before last to speak with FEMA about this.”
Townsend reported that during a recent trip he had made to Washington D.C., FEMA had indicated that they wanted homeowners to file individual complaints if they felt their property was incorrectly classified.
But that process would cost the homeowner at least $500 and could take up to six months to conclude.
In the mean time, customers who have their houses financed are being forced to buy high priced flood insurance. Tom Oldham of Blackford reported that some of his neighbors were paying $500-600 per month.
“It’s unbelievable,” Oldham said. “My wife and I are fortunate enough to own our house. Take some younger people who are both having to work to survive. How can they stand to have a $600 a month flood insurance bill?”
According to Oldham, the worst part is that Blackford residents don’t see the benefit of FEMA.
“FEMA is nothing to me,” he said. He said that during the 2011 flood, FEMA did nothing for residents of his area. “They did not help us out one bit. FEMA is nothing to me because they’ve never shown us nothing here.”
Sebree City Manager Emory Thomas told the crowd that he was looking at paying $5,500 a year for his flood insurance.
“We live in downtown Sebree,” he said. “I’ve lived there in that spot for 49 years. Water has never even gotten into my yard.”
Thomas also said that the bank had notified him that he had 45 days to get flood insurance or they would charge him to do so. He said that when he looked into it, it takes 30 days to get approval from the insurance company.
“FEMA came out in 2007 and told us they were going to do these maps,” he said. “But they said they were going to have hearings about the changes. We never heard from them until they sent the maps.”
Judge Townsend added that the county had been told the same thing.
“It sounds like FEMA did not follow through with their obligation to Webster County,” Whifield said.
He told those gathered that they were not alone in this struggle, pointing out that the same thing was happening from coast to coast as FEMA implemented what he called “the flood map around America”.
“We are beginning to hear from a lot of different people about the impact this has had on them personally as a result of their flood insurance rates going up or them being put in a flood plan,” said Congressman Whitfield.  
The Senate voted 67-32 earlier this year in support of a bill that would delay implementing of the maps for up to four years. To go into effect, the House of Representatives must also pass similar legislation.
 “It’s my understanding that the house is going to take up legislation addressing this issue next week,” Whitfield continued. “And then,  if it passes, they would have to go to conference (with the senate) to work out the differences.”
Whitfield told the gathered crowd that what would help him the most was to hear the individual stories of residents who had been affected by the changes.
He also told the crowd that in a conversation with the FEMA Director in Atlanta that morning, he was told that banks had the right to waive customers’ requirement to buy flood insurance.
Judge Townsend added that at least one bank in Webster County had already done so.
Melanie Legate of United Community Bank questioned whether this was accurate, saying that lenders were required by law to make borrowers insure structures in a flood zone.
“By federal regulations, banks are required to ask that anybody in a flood plain have insurance,” said Legate. “If they don’t get that, the bank force places it so they (the bank) can be under regulatory compliance.”
According to, the official website of the Natioal Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), “Under federal law, the purchase of flood insurance is mandatory for all federal or federally related financial assistance for the acquisition and/or construction of buildings in high-risk flood areas.”
But the congressman and his staff still insisted that this was not the case.
“FEMA told us this morning that banks  can waive making customers buy that insurance,” said Michael Pape, Congressman Whifield’s District Director.
“Couldn’t the director of FEMA in Atlanta send a letter to the banks and let them know that this is an option?” asked Magistrate Chad Townsend.
Whiftield said that he would work on trying to get that done.
“It puts us in a situation where we have to pass the ordinance accepting these maps to get those people who actually are in a flood plain cheaper insurance,” said Judge Townsend. “If we don’t pass it, then we cannot get FEMA money for any damages that might take place.”
“I think we, as magistrates, are under an obligation to make sure that these maps are correct,” said magistrate Chad Townsend.
For homeowners who are affected by the new proposed maps, or any home owner concerned with flooding whether their home falls in a flood plain or not, the NFIP is an important resource to have.
On their website the NFIP says “Many people are under the misconception that they are ineligible for flood insurance because of where they live, or their mortgage status. But the truth is, as long as your hometown is an NFIP community, most homeowners, business owners and renters can get flood insurance. The NFIP urges consumers to remember the flood insurance basics:
•You CAN get flood insurance nationwide.
•You CAN get flood insurance if you live in a floodplain or high-flood-risk area.
•You CAN get flood insurance if you live outside a floodplain, or a low-to-moderate flood-risk area, - and at lower cost.
•You CAN get flood insurance if your property has been flooded before.
•You CAN get flood insurance from insurance agents in your area.
•You CAN buy flood insurance even if your mortgage broker doesn’t require it.

You can contact the NFIP at or at 1-888-379-9531.

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