Protection from levee failure costly

With the Navajo County Board of Supervisors declaring the Winslow Levee is substandard, county residents northeast of the city will want to ensure their homeowners policy includes flood insurance.

Should the levee break again, homeowners in Bushman and Ames Acres could find themselves homeless, and perhaps more devastating, possessionless if they don’t have flood insurance.

While standard policies protect homeowners from fires or burglaries, they do not cover floods even though people in high-risk areas (zones A and V) are five times more likely to experience flooding than fire.

County officials asked City Council on April 26 for a letter agreeing that the Winslow Levee needs to be officially decertified by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The process would mean the levee would not protect the residents in the floodplain until it is recertified — which could take three to five years.

The Council did not act on the county’s request and most likely will not pen the letter. Councilman Harold Soehner, who is also an agent with Farm Bureau Financial Services, said he understands the county’s need to decertify the levee and that the decision will upset the affect homeowners.

“If I was somebody out there and I just refinanced my house and I’ve got just so much budgeted for insurance… and all of a sudden I’m going to have to add another $50 a month into that figure… I expect there’s going to be a lot of backlash and grumbling and understandably,” he said.

Should the area be socked with higher than average precipitation in the next three years or until recertification is complete, homeowners in the affected areas may be required to purchase flood insurance if they don’t have it already.

The law requires flood insurance only if you have a federally backed mortgage on a home located in a high-risk zone or if you’ve received a federal grant for previous flood losses.

Government aid is available only if the President makes an official disaster declaration. Most often, federal disaster aid comes in the form of an interest-bearing loan even then, grants usually don’t even begin to cover the contents much less the structural damage. And in order to secure the loan, you would have to purchase flood insurance. On top of mortgage payments, just a few inches of water could cost thousands of dollars over the life of a mortgage, whereas the average premium for a standard flood policy is $382 annually in high-risk areas.

However, for people who own their homes outright, flood insurance is not necessary.

“If they own the house free and clear, then it’s optional,” he said. “I don’t believe it’s FEMA that makes you have it, it’s your lender. You’re not going to get a loan on your house if you don’t have it,” Soehner said.

FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, suggests everyone regardless of whether you live in floodplain, have flood insurance because it can also protect against drainage problems.

Putting off something this important is never a good idea — especially since there’s a 30-day waiting period on most new policies. However, there’s usually no waiting period for flood insurance when it’s purchased in connection with making, increasing, renewing or extending a loan.

Contact your insurance agent about what your policy covers, but for more information on flood zones and maps and the National Flood Insurance Program, go to http://www.fema.gov/nfip/ on the Web or call 1-202-566-1600.

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