Flood-plain changes could hit homeowners in wallet

Deadline for buying insurance at reduced rate is approaching
2011-04-24T00:00:00Z 2014-08-20T09:39:31Z Flood-plain changes could hit homeowners in walletDale Quinn Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 24, 2011 12:00 am  • 

A deadline looms for Tucson-area homeowners whose properties are in the newly redrawn flood plain.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency regularly updates its maps that show the high-water mark and determine who's required to buy flood insurance.

In Pima County new maps will become effective June 16.

Homeowners with structures on their property that sit within the new flood plain will have to get flood insurance if they have a federally back mortgage, even though they weren't required to have it before. Others who are no longer in the flood plain can drop their coverage if they want to.

Even people who own their homes outright should consider a separate policy if they're moving into the flood plain, experts say, because homeowners insurance doesn't cover flood damage.

Whether you're required to buy flood insurance or just think you should, if you act before the new maps take effect you can save some serious cash. After the new maps take effect, prices for new flood policies will go up significantly.

The new digital flood insurance rate maps consolidate digital ones that have been converted from paper. Over the years, as the maps were transferred from paper to a digital format, errors were made. The new maps correct those mistakes, said Terry Hendricks, chief hydrologist with Pima County.

Also, changes in the landscape mean the maps need to be consistently updated. "The flood plain is always changing, especially in the Southwest," Hendricks said.

The maps show what's called the 100-year flood, which means a flood has a 1 percent chance of occurring there in any given year. The name is misleading because a "100-year flood" can occur two years in a row, or even twice in the same year.

The first step for property owners is to determine whether or not a structure is in the flood plain, and some local jurisdictions have already begun to notify those affected by the changes.

Marana mailed about 800 letters telling homeowners flood-plain changes will affect their property, said Keith Brann, the town's engineer. Another 200 letters were mailed to businesses and developers, he said.

Marana was able to rein in the number of affected homeowners after FEMA designated 10 square miles in the town part of the 100-year flood plain in 2007.

The town disagreed with the designation and did its own drainage study, which FEMA accepted. While Marana's study kept many homeowners out of the flood plain, some still need to purchase flood insurance, primarily because of runoff from the Tortolita Mountains.

In the Cortaro Ranch subdivision, near West Cortaro Farms and North Hartman roads, potential runoff from the Hardy Wash puts some homeowners in a spot where they'll need flood insurance while their neighbors won't.

Aaron Herring, a mechanical engineer, is one of those who's having to look at purchasing the insurance. He said he didn't much consider the possibility of floods when he moved into the northwest-side house. But after rain storms, water flows through the wash north of the subdivision.

Herring, who lives in the house with his wife and children, has yet to find out how much flood insurance is going to cost, but he said the prospect of forking over hundreds of dollars every year is "definitely not pleasant."

Brann said the situation in Cortaro Ranch emerged because a wall on the north side of the subdivision wasn't built to specifications FEMA requires to hold back floodwater. So when FEMA was updating maps it ignored the wall and some residents were put in a hazard area that requires insurance while others weren't.

The wall is on private land and it's up to the homeowners association to decide if it wants to improve it so it meets FEMA's specifications, Brann said.

On the north side of Tucson, St. Gregory's College Preparatory School, at 3231 N. Craycroft Road, will also soon find itself in the flood plain. Rick Belding, the school's business manager, said he hadn't heard anything about it yet.

The school sits south of the Rillito River, where the Pantano Wash and Tanque Verde Creek merge. The school will examine any potential effects the flood-plain designation might have and see if it needs any additional insurance, Belding said.

The school is within city limits and Tucson plans to start notifying property owners affected by the changing flood plain maps soon, said Ernie Duarte, the city's director of development services. About 1,500 city property owners will find out they're either coming into or leaving the flood plain.

It's important for people to remember that homeowners insurance doesn't cover floods. Even if homeowners think there's little chance of a nearby creek overflowing onto their property, the lender will require the additional insurance if their home falls within the flood plain.

For that reason, homebuyers can be leery of purchasing a home when they learn it falls within it, said Paul Volpe, vice president of Nova Home Loans.

"There are times when people have had contracts on properties and sometimes those deals fall through," Volpe said.

Are you affected?

To find out if your property is moving into or out of the flood plain on the new map go to rfcd.pima.gov/dfirm and scroll down to the area where you can enter your street address number or tax parcel code.

If using the address search tool, you can then select "zoom to parcel" by choosing your address from the list of streets. Using the parcel code number will take you directly to information about the parcel, which includes a link to the new and current maps.

The website requires that you use a Windows machine and Internet Explorer as a Web browser.

Mac users can look up their property at the nearest public library.

On StarNet: View a video on how to navigate the flood-plain map at azstarnet.com/video

Substantial savings

If homeowners whose properties will be in the newly drawn flood plain get insurance before the new maps become effective on June 16, they can buy a preferred risk policy as opposed to a more expensive standard one.

For a structure to be placed in Flood Zone A - a hazard area that would be inundated by 100-year flooding - a preferred risk policy with maximum coverage of $250,000 for a building and $100,000 for its contents could have a first-year premium around $395.

In the second and third years, the homeowner would still be eligible for the preferred risk policy rate with an additional fee of $10.

The fourth year premium would jump to about $1,100 for $250,000 worth of coverage for the building when the policy switches to a standard rate.

The preferred policy is also available to property owners in lower-risk flood hazard areas where insurance is not required.

Buying insurance after the new maps become effective could cost about $1,500 per year.

Rates can vary, so homeowners should work with their insurance agents to determine what coverage they need.

For more information go to www.floodsmart.gov

SOURCE: Pima County Regional Flood Control District

Outreach

To help Pima County residents understand the new flood plain maps and flood insurance rates, the Regional Flood Control District is hosting a series of open house meetings that will include representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

• May 3, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Morris K. Udall Center, on the southeast corner of East Tanque Verde and North Sabino Canyon roads.

• May 3, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Oro Valley Public Library, 1305 W. Naranja Drive, Oro Valley.

• May 4, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Ajo Community Center, 290 W. Fifth St., Ajo.

• May 5, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Public Works Basement, 201 N. Stone Ave.

• May 5 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Estes Elementary School cafeteria, 11279 W. Grier Road, Marana.

Contact reporter Dale Quinn at dquinn@azstarnet.com or 573-4197.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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