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A Bipartisan F***-Up on Federal Flood Insurance


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#1 LFC

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Posted 14 March 2014 - 12:57 PM

Crap on a cracker! They finally start to get ahold of the abomination that is the federal flood insurance program and now they're backing off?

http://talkingpoints...insurance-hikes

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President Barack Obama is set to sign into law a bipartisan bill relieving homeowners living in flood-prone neighborhoods from big increases in their insurance bills.

The legislation, which cleared Congress on Thursday, reverses much of a 2012 overhaul of the government's much-criticized flood insurance program after angry homeowners facing sharp premium hikes protested.

The Senate's 72-22 vote sent the House-drafted measure to Obama. White House officials said he'll sign it.


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#2 cmk

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Posted 14 March 2014 - 01:43 PM

Just another welfare program masquerading as "insurance", being supported by an obvious election-year vote/money grab.

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#3 golden_valley

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Posted 14 March 2014 - 02:14 PM

While I agree that proximity to the elections is a motivator here, I'm not so sure that it is simply welfare. I know most of us think of lovely houses facing the Atlantic when we think of flood insurance, but with the redrawing of flood plain maps there are lots of plain middle class houses with no coastline or river front views that are now facing large insurances costs. Some of these areas haven't seen flooding in many, many years and are situated behind levees that the Army Corps of Engineers has been reinforcing over the past 25 years in Sacramento's case. It seems this legislation is designed to slow down the rate increases, not to eliminate them. Is that such a terrible thing?

#4 Rabiner

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Posted 14 March 2014 - 02:43 PM

View Postgolden_valley, on 14 March 2014 - 02:14 PM, said:

While I agree that proximity to the elections is a motivator here, I'm not so sure that it is simply welfare. I know most of us think of lovely houses facing the Atlantic when we think of flood insurance, but with the redrawing of flood plain maps there are lots of plain middle class houses with no coastline or river front views that are now facing large insurances costs. Some of these areas haven't seen flooding in many, many years and are situated behind levees that the Army Corps of Engineers has been reinforcing over the past 25 years in Sacramento's case. It seems this legislation is designed to slow down the rate increases, not to eliminate them. Is that such a terrible thing?

The legislation is a payout to people who live on the coasts or near rivers for little reason since they're reducing the costs of insurance to those people at the expense of everyone else. I see little reason why the government should subsidize in any way reconstruction on the Jersey Shore for the next storm. I like FEMA but at some point you have to cut your losses and say "the chance that your new home will be destroyed voids us of covering you for insurance due to weather changes". It's far different with other types of insurance in my view for weather related things since it seems far more obvious to me. It's one thing if your home is destroyed by a tornado or earthquake which has far more randomness and can happen across far more territory than rising waters can.

Also pertaining to Sacramento, sure it's a flood plain but due to the levee system I'd expect insurance to be lower since the risks are lower.
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#5 Progressive whisperer

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Posted 14 March 2014 - 02:58 PM

View PostRabiner, on 14 March 2014 - 02:43 PM, said:



The legislation is a payout to people who live on the coasts or near rivers for little reason since they're reducing the costs of insurance to those people at the expense of everyone else. I see little reason why the government should subsidize in any way reconstruction on the Jersey Shore for the next storm. I like FEMA but at some point you have to cut your losses and say "the chance that your new home will be destroyed voids us of covering you for insurance due to weather changes". It's far different with other types of insurance in my view for weather related things since it seems far more obvious to me. It's one thing if your home is destroyed by a tornado or earthquake which has far more randomness and can happen across far more territory than rising waters can.

Also pertaining to Sacramento, sure it's a flood plain but due to the levee system I'd expect insurance to be lower since the risks are lower.

I can see people balking at several hundred % increases. Phasing in the increase over five years seems reasonable. I think a "one and done" rule might work, too. If a storm takes your house on an exposed barrier island, etc, you get the layout, but that property is excluded from future government insurance. Build again without property insurance or take the money as compensation and go somewhere else.
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#6 Traveler

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Posted 14 March 2014 - 03:09 PM

LFC, while I completely agree with where you are coming from, PW has some really good points. For starters, the FEMA mapping process is a total joke. It uses primitive hydrologic and hydraulic models, with error bands that go both ways. But the process for upgrading the computational methodology is so expensive and arcane that nobody does it. Plus you have a huge vested interest in the engineering/legal community to keep it like it is. So you get maps based on faulty delineations, including hills well above the floodplain. So there is a substantial minority out there that have legit beefs. Those behind levees for instance.

But I am entirely behind the "one and done" for the barrier island denizens.
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#7 LFC

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Posted 14 March 2014 - 03:25 PM

View Postgolden_valley, on 14 March 2014 - 02:14 PM, said:

While I agree that proximity to the elections is a motivator here, I'm not so sure that it is simply welfare. I know most of us think of lovely houses facing the Atlantic when we think of flood insurance, but with the redrawing of flood plain maps there are lots of plain middle class houses with no coastline or river front views that are now facing large insurances costs. Some of these areas haven't seen flooding in many, many years and are situated behind levees that the Army Corps of Engineers has been reinforcing over the past 25 years in Sacramento's case. It seems this legislation is designed to slow down the rate increases, not to eliminate them. Is that such a terrible thing?

As Rabiner points out, they don't have the same rates or rate increases as somebody who built (insanely) an a barrier island that by its very definition is a temporary piece of land.

As to the redrawing of flood plain maps, well there are reasons for that. Places with a low danger of flooding before are now seeing increased risk. That means they will need to pay more for insurance. For example, if I work 3 miles from home then my car insurance is one price, but if I work 30 miles from work the price will increase because the risk increases.

Right now we're encouraging development and rebuilding in places that simply shouldn't have houses. I find it interesting that the Republicans are all about the private market providing better solutions, but refuse to wean the Gulf Coast and multiple river valley voters off of the government dole.
" 'Individual conscience' means that women only get contraceptives if their employers, their physicians, their pharmacists, their husbands and/or fathers, pastors, and possibly their mayors, Governors, State Secretaries of Health, Congressmen, Senators, and President all agree that in that particular case they're justifiable." --D.C. Sessions

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#8 LFC

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Posted 14 March 2014 - 03:28 PM

Traveler, I have the solution for faulty flood zone maps; pay to get a variance with proof that you are above the flood line. I had to bring in a surveyor and do that when I wanted to place my house in an area that was crudely designated steep slope. I managed to cut my driveway length over 100' and actually built on drier ground. It's simply not realistic to have a lot by lot assessment done by the government because, as you point out, it's as expensive as hell.
" 'Individual conscience' means that women only get contraceptives if their employers, their physicians, their pharmacists, their husbands and/or fathers, pastors, and possibly their mayors, Governors, State Secretaries of Health, Congressmen, Senators, and President all agree that in that particular case they're justifiable." --D.C. Sessions

"That's the problem with being implacable foes - no one has any incentive to treat you as anything more than an obstacle to be overcome."

"The 'Road to Serfdom' is really all right turns." --Progressive Whisperer

""The GOP ... where every accusation is also a confession." --Progressive Whisperer

#9 Practical Girl

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Posted 14 March 2014 - 03:36 PM

LFC, I have the solution to all of it: We need to keep on frackin', let the climate science deniers take over and watch the flood plains become barren wastelands. No need for flood insurance when you're on an "oasis" of dry, right?

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#10 Traveler

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Posted 14 March 2014 - 03:45 PM

View PostLFC, on 14 March 2014 - 03:28 PM, said:

Traveler, I have the solution for faulty flood zone maps; pay to get a variance with proof that you are above the flood line. I had to bring in a surveyor and do that when I wanted to place my house in an area that was crudely designated steep slope. I managed to cut my driveway length over 100' and actually built on drier ground. It's simply not realistic to have a lot by lot assessment done by the government because, as you point out, it's as expensive as hell.
LFC, Unfortunately a Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA) is a horse of an entirely different color. It takes a whole hydraulic study and then has to go through FEMA review. Cost starts at ~$15k. Much different from your township engineer simply looking a decent survey at a cost of maybe $2k. Or even just a site visit as in your case.

Worst of it is, they have surveyed most of this region with LIDAR, so 2-foot contours are available easily. So that excuse doesnt work anymore. Real problem is the HEC-RAS 1-D flood model used for decades are not very good with 2-D problems like flooding in backwaters, lateral flow, diverting flow and suchlike.
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#11 golden_valley

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Posted 14 March 2014 - 03:51 PM

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Republicans are all about the private market providing better solutions

This situation is one that shows Republicans are not all about the private market providing better solutions. The real estate and construction industry wants to build where it wants to build and if it takes government backed insurance to make that happen, then they're all for it.

LFC, if the flood zone maps are faulty as Traveler says, then how do you ever prove that the construction site is above the flood line?

I recognize the need for rate increases, but just suggest that a phased approach in imposing them is not a horrible thing. Fear not, Sacramento is safe from flooding this year! The opposite problem has Big Ag howling at not getting their usual allotment of federally subsidized water...I'm sure they have crop insurance.

#12 LFC

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Posted 14 March 2014 - 04:28 PM

View Postgolden_valley, on 14 March 2014 - 03:51 PM, said:

LFC, if the flood zone maps are faulty as Traveler says, then how do you ever prove that the construction site is above the flood line?

One factor that could be easily proven would be elevation, but I defer to Traveler's industry knowledge on the cost of more accurate data since that's his current career. This, however, makes me even more adamant about dismantling much of the federal flood insurance program. Reading his posts, it looks like we have one of two choices if we want the program to pay for itself:

1) Stick with the current maps and potentially increase premiums on people not really in danger.

2) Create the new maps at great cost, and pass that cost PLUS the current program deficit onto people in the program more fairly.

I can't think of another option other than the current subsidization for building in flood prone zones.


Traveler: Do you think it would be accurate to say that the current 25 year flood zones would be a reasonable indicator to lock out the issuing of new policies for any new development?


And I should add in that I've believed in the "one and done" policy for a long time. If repair costs exceed 50% of the home's value (not incl. land), the homeowner is given a choice; the program buys you out and you move elsewhere or the program repairs your home but you are now ineligible for coverage.
" 'Individual conscience' means that women only get contraceptives if their employers, their physicians, their pharmacists, their husbands and/or fathers, pastors, and possibly their mayors, Governors, State Secretaries of Health, Congressmen, Senators, and President all agree that in that particular case they're justifiable." --D.C. Sessions

"That's the problem with being implacable foes - no one has any incentive to treat you as anything more than an obstacle to be overcome."

"The 'Road to Serfdom' is really all right turns." --Progressive Whisperer

""The GOP ... where every accusation is also a confession." --Progressive Whisperer

#13 Traveler

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Posted 14 March 2014 - 04:45 PM

I would like to clarify that the FEMA maps are not all that bad per se, its just that their boundaries were/are pretty imprecise, particularly where the terrain is flat, like a floodplain. Some areas near the edge may not be in the prescribed "100-year inundation zone", while others are. The topos used for most maps were pretty crude (like USGS with at best 10 foot contours), so an elevation difference of a foot or two is lost in the noise. But that can make all the difference. I have seen hillocks in the floodplain included when they were 20 feet above the local elevation. So what they do is put in the design flood elevation based on the model, and if the later topos show you are well above it, your task is pretty straightforward. While inaccurate, its pretty reasonable approach to solve an erroneous map. But still a chore.

The problems arise when the landscape develops over time, meanwhile NOAA issues new rainfall depths for the design flood event and better topography becomes available. All of these things change the mapping. LFC points out that perhaps those in the floodplain should pay, but I think we all benefit by having it mapped properly, as there are a lot of public assets in the floodplain as well. Personally, if all those in flooding or storm areas just get the "one and done", we have got all we need. Of course that puts the shorelines even more out of reach of the middle class. Looking at the Jersey shore, not sure if that is a bad thing.
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#14 LFC

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Posted 14 March 2014 - 05:10 PM

View PostTraveler, on 14 March 2014 - 04:45 PM, said:

Personally, if all those in flooding or storm areas just get the "one and done", we have got all we need.

I disagree. That may handle the existing homes over time, but what do you do about new development? And how do you handle NYC and New Orleans? And as I noodle on it a bit more, is it really reasonable to condemn all of the thousands (tens of thousands?) of homes that were hit by Hurricane Sandy? I'm not talking the homes that are too close to the ocean but those flooded by the huge amount of rainfall. It becomes a sticky wicket, which is why I think the program needs a major overhaul with its sights set on paying for itself.

On maps, you mention about the problems of change in terrain and rainfall amounts. As anybody living at the south end of the Mississippi River can attest, man made "fire hosing" of rivers is another issue. Flood control in one location can screw another. So if we take on the expense of more accurate flood zone maps, we will eventually need to take on the expense of updating those maps again. I'd be interested in seeing if anybody has done a cost/benefit analysis of a this kind of project.
" 'Individual conscience' means that women only get contraceptives if their employers, their physicians, their pharmacists, their husbands and/or fathers, pastors, and possibly their mayors, Governors, State Secretaries of Health, Congressmen, Senators, and President all agree that in that particular case they're justifiable." --D.C. Sessions

"That's the problem with being implacable foes - no one has any incentive to treat you as anything more than an obstacle to be overcome."

"The 'Road to Serfdom' is really all right turns." --Progressive Whisperer

""The GOP ... where every accusation is also a confession." --Progressive Whisperer

#15 Practical Girl

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Posted 14 March 2014 - 05:22 PM

View PostLFC, on 14 March 2014 - 05:10 PM, said:

I disagree. That may handle the existing homes over time, but what do you do about new development? And how do you handle NYC and New Orleans? And as I noodle on it a bit more, is it really reasonable to condemn all of the thousands (tens of thousands?) of homes that were hit by Hurricane Sandy? I'm not talking the homes that are too close to the ocean but those flooded by the huge amount of rainfall. It becomes a sticky wicket, which is why I think the program needs a major overhaul with its sights set on paying for itself.

On maps, you mention about the problems of change in terrain and rainfall amounts. As anybody living at the south end of the Mississippi River can attest, man made "fire hosing" of rivers is another issue. Flood control in one location can screw another. So if we take on the expense of more accurate flood zone maps, we will eventually need to take on the expense of updating those maps again. I'd be interested in seeing if anybody has done a cost/benefit analysis of a this kind of project.

I have no idea how this really should play out, but a big question, for me? Over time, is it more cost effective to buy people out and relocate, or keep cleaning up? In Austin, we have a local example where- FINALLY- the decision has been made. It's relatively few homes, but a good example of what a dose of reality combined with local and federal funds can do. Small, and may not apply to your Mississippi example etc, but it's a way to begin to hold the line.

As far as new development in flood plains? Should be stopped at the permit stage unless every developer (first stage) agrees to hold harmless local, state and federal governments AND includes that clause in all sales of the developed property/land sold. I'm hard, hard line on this. It is completely ridiculous to know better, yet not do better. You want to ignore the Earth and its natural consequences? Great! Do it at your own peril, and deal with it on your own. It's called "good parenting".
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“A republic,” Franklin said, “if you can keep it.”


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#16 cmk

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Posted 14 March 2014 - 07:40 PM

All of these problems are caused by phony bullshit "insurance" programs that aren't really about insurance. They're basically welfare programs that mostly transfer money from the middle class and the prudent to the wealthy and foolish.

Get rid of them and it all corrects itself in a few decades.

Of course that will never happen.

ETA: Line #1 in my sig.
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#17 Rabiner

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Posted 14 March 2014 - 07:55 PM

Definitely agree with Charles regarding this in the case of flood insurance. Earthquake insurance in CA is very different and wouldn't apply to this thread, just flood and increasingly fire insurance that covers wild fires.
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#18 Traveler

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Posted 14 March 2014 - 08:15 PM

LFC, Actually new development is entirely covered,more than you might think. I wanted to stick a retaining wall on the banks of the Delaware River above Trenton. HEC-RAS said it would raise the level of the river 0.01 feet (3mm) for 10 feet on the guy's property. No go. Like I said, it's a belief that outdated models and methodologies are perfect. So believe me, nobody is doing anything new. Its all legacy stuff now.
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I am interested to see how they treat Mantoloking, where our family house is (the only one in the local block not to suffer damage-just out of the picture). They refilled the new inlet at the foot of the Bridge, but are they gonna fill up all of the lots by the beach and let folks rebuild there? Chances are they will, but every house will look like the one left standing.
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#19 Beelzebuddy

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Posted 17 March 2014 - 04:01 PM

Interestingly, I use the NFIP data extensively and exclusively in my work. I can confirm that the old flood maps were/are pretty crappy, but have been vastly improved where funding/need is available starting sometime in the 2000s. That doesn't mean they are super accurate at the scale of the individual average size lot. Now the flood zones generally align well with hydrography... The vertical accuracy (elevation) has been an order of magnitude worse than the horizontal accuracy.

LIDAR data is making thing a lot better in both horizontal and vertical accuracy. The problem I see for the medium and long term is - what's a 100 year flood event anymore - because of changing weather patterns and potential rainfall amounts in a higher energy hydrologic cycle.
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#20 J-CA

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Posted 19 March 2014 - 10:30 AM

The Red River valley has had the living crap surveyed out of it for the last 15+ years, too much flooding and too many houses built on low land, long, long ago.
Figuring out the problem and giving people grants to help them fix it when they were not, and could not be, aware of the problems when they moved onto the land is the only viable solution that I see. People have so much of their wealth tied up in their homes these days that rendering them worthless seems to be an incredible burden.
Flood insurance seems to just incentivize doing nothing for the homeowners which is the opposite of what you want them to do. The extra infrastructure required, raising houses or building ring dykes, is good for the economy too (at a time like this).
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