Bill would help mitigate community, home flood risks

Almost every year heavy rains cause rivers and lakes to overflow, wreaking havoc on flood prone communities, like many of those in Lycoming County and throughout the country. Five years after Superstorm Sandy and weeks after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, we see the devastating effects of flooding along our nation’s coasts.

As a certified floodplain manager and planning professional, I continue to be astonished at the destruction flooding can cause. It’s especially hard to witness when there are measures that could have been in place to alleviate the damages we’ve experienced time and time again.

Since 1968, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) has provided communities and homeowners with a backstop to protect themselves when a flooding disaster occurs. However, the NFIP is facing an uphill battle – the program was in jeopardy of being eliminated entirely due to the $30 billion debt it had racked up, unless and until Congress forgave $16 billion in the most recent relief package.

This debt and financial burden is held by all taxpayers, regardless of where they live or their risk of flooding. As the program is reauthorized, Congress must enact some common sense solutions, solutions that support Americans.

According to FEMA, there are more than 150,000 structures nationwide classified as “Repetitive Loss Properties.” While these buildings are just one percent of those insured by NFIP, they represent 25 to 30 percent of all flooding claims.

As a result, the NFIP has distributed monies to some properties year after year.

And there are properties right here in Lycoming County that fall into this category. For example, one property filed claims between 2004 and 2011 for over $378,918 in damages on a structure assessed at $200,000, and another filed multiple claims totaling $350,000 for a structure valued at $100,000 over the course of one decade.

Earlier this year, the Repeatedly Flooded Communities Preparation Act (H.R. 1558/S.1445) was introduced in Congress. The bill would compel communities with significant numbers of repeatedly flooded properties to create plans that lower flood risks while identifying areas that require mitigation efforts and share these plans with the public.

Under current law, repeatedly flooded communities aren’t required to change their development regulations or infrastructure investments to address risk, often times resulting in good money being thrown after bad.

Moreover, laws that require the disclosure of past flood damage, placement of a home in the flood plain, and flood insurance expectations that are not consistent across the country. As flood insurance is underwritten by the federal government, a national standard should be developed so everyone is operating by the same playbook.

Knowing potential flood risk can save homebuyers significant time and money. Unfortunately, many residents are unaware of their current flood risks, further imperiling them and their loved ones.

While the NFIP is a valuable federal program, there’s no doubt it needs to be modernized and amended during its upcoming reauthorization. The continuing costs of recovery and rebuilding in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, should serve as a strong impetus for Congress to take steps to fix this system.

I urge our Congressional representatives to support sensible reforms like these and identify other policy solutions that provide communities and homeowners with tools to mitigate flood risk, otherwise we’ll run the risk of encountering a flooding disaster that we can’t prepare for, or recover from.

McJunkin is deputy director of the Lycoming Planning and Community Development Department.