, Gloucester, MA

October 4, 2013

Editorial: AG right to join push for FEMA flood map delays

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — It remains to be seen whether the push by state Attorney General Martha Coakley earlier this week will gain any further traction in delaying the implementation of potentially costly new FEMA flood plain mandates.

But the addition of Coakley’s voice to those of Congressman John Tierney and other federal lawmakers last week should certainly give added credence and urgency to the need for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to indeed be open to revising new maps that would ultimately sock coastal homeowners and businesses with substantially higher insurance costs — even if there’s been no demonstration that their properties are at risk.

In her letter shipped to federal House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, Coakley urged that so-called the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act be pushed back until FEMA complies with a congressional mandate to undertake both an affordability review and a peer review of the new flood zone maps.

In that vein, Coakley’s letter mirrors correspondence sent last week by Tierney, with other voices for a delay coming from state legislative leaders up to and including House Speaker Robert DeLeo.

As we’ve noted previously, the insurance reform measure has an important context. It’s aimed at essentially stabilizing the National Flood Insurance Program, FEMA officials have said, and it will phase out some artificially low rates and discounts that have been overly sustained through federal subsidies.

But Realtor Amy Wallick of J Barrett, which has offices in Gloucester and Mancester, has said she’s aware of flood insurance bill hikes of from $200 a month to $1,000. That’s a blow that few property owners would likely be able to handle — and let’s remember that it’s a cost they would have to bear. Flood insurance is mandatory for property owners with mortgages located in certain zones on FEMA’s reconfigured rate maps, which attempt to address rising seas.

It now seems clear that, as Coakley put it, “premature implementation ... threatens the housing recovery that Massachusetts and the nation are just starting to experience.”

That’s all the more reason for FEMA to put the brakes on these changes, before the new maps and homeowners’ financial straits get too far down the road.