The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


April 30, 2014

Biggert-Waters Act still a threat, 50 told

LEWISBURG — It was a packed house Wednesday night at the Lewisburg Senior Center as more than 50 people gathered to discuss recent changes to the Biggert-Waters Act, which many of the residents in attendance fear could make their Valley properties worthless.

About 600 structures in Lewisburg are in the 100-year floodplain or are touched by the floodplain, Lewisburg Elm Street Manager Samantha Pearson said.

And the news for them isn’t all good, despite recent reforms to Biggert-Waters, according to experts who spoke at the meeting.

“There is no way I can put a happy face on what is going to happen,” said Fran McJunkin, deputy director of the Lycoming County Planning Department.

The meeting was hosted by the Lewisburg Neighborhoods Corp. for area residents confused by the changing flood insurance regulations, which were overhauled in March after homeowners protested exorbitant rate hikes.

The problem with the original form of Biggert-Waters essentially is that it got rid of “a very important portion of the flood insurance program that affects us in river communities,” McJunkin said.

Previously, houses in river communities built before the adoption of historic flood maps were given low rates for insurance to encourage municipalities to enroll in the federal flood insurance program. Biggert-Waters then ruled that these historic homes would be treated as new construction, meaning they needed elevation certificates and new insurance rates, up to as much as $16,000 per year.

“That was the tipping point in January,” she said. “Congress had to do something.”

The Biggert-Waters reforms “basically reset” rates for primary homeowners who bought homes after July 2012, McJunkin said.

“Congress gave us a reset,” she said. “But what Congress did not do was withdraw (increases).”

Insurance rates will continue to rise, but less dramatically, at a rate of 15 percent to 18 percent of a homeowner’s current policy, until the owner gets an elevation certificate, McJunkin said. Homeowners need to contact surveyors to find out more about their homes and elevations.

Some properties will have to be mitigated, but not every property can be, she said. Sal Vitko, also with Lycoming County, agreed. Options may include filling in basements, raising utilities and elevating structures, he said.

“There’s no silver bullet that’s going to fix every property,” Vitko said.

There also is a property buyout process, but it is lengthy and involves some cost-sharing, he said.

Jeffrey Coup, of the Coup Agency in Milton, was a third panelist, and he talked about the insurance side of the legislation.

The reforms to Biggert-Waters “kicked the can down the road,” he said.

“Everything’s going to get ugly again, but it’s going to take more time,” he added.

The reform extensions run out in 2017. Coup encouraged homeowners to consult a professional who specializes in flood insurance to understand their options and what is best for their properties.

Pearson said the meeting was meant to help inform borough officials as well as the public.

“This is federal legislation, which directly impacts private property owners,” she said. “We don’t get a whole lot of feedback, like the kind of direct information and feedback that property owners do.”

Pearson encouraged residents to contact legislators to express their concerns and opinions.

Homeowners at the meeting seemed most concerned with property values and resale values, wondering will happen to the communities if homes cannot be sold.

“The politicians passed a law that made my house worthless,” one Lewisburg homeowner said.

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