Rising flood insurance rates could have 'devastating' effect on Bradford County
Franklin Township resident Julie Jennings said the price of flood insurance on her home has tripled, from $400 to $1,200 in just this past year.
Her home, which is located along the Towanda Creek, was required to be insured as a condition of getting a mortgage on the house, she said.
If faced with another increase, for example if it went up to $2,000 per year, Jennings said she wouldn't be able to afford it.
Flood insurance premiums will be increasing even more in Bradford County, as a result of the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, which was signed into law on Friday by President Barack Obama.
The Act will cause all federally subsidized flood insurance premiums to increase, The Associated Press has reported. In Bradford County, there is a federally subsidized insurance policy on one in 100 housing units, according to the Center for Rural Pennsylvania.
Homeowners with federally subsidized flood insurance will see their premiums increase by up to 18 percent a year, year after year, until the National Flood Insurance Program is collecting enough revenue to cover a $24 billion shortfall created by a series of catastrophic storms, according to The Associated Press. And owners of businesses and second homes who have subsidized insurance will see their premiums increase by 25 percent annually, the AP reported.
The increase in insurance rates "will have a devastating effect" on the county, said Tony Ventello, executive director of the Progress Authority, an economic development agency based in Towanda. The increases in premiums could make it difficult for people to sell their properties, because prospective buyers will be repelled by a home with high flood insurance rates, he said.
Monroe Township Supervisor Vernon Perry said rising insurance prices will adversely affect new construction within the township's flood zones, which include almost the entire village of Powell that is threatened by the Towanda Creek to the north.
Perry said new residents in flood zones will also be negatively affected, as flood insurance is required in order to obtain a mortgage if the home lies within a flood zone.
Twenty-eight homes in Monroe Township are currently insured under federally subsidized flood insurance policies.
The other Bradford County municipalities with the highest number of federally subsidized flood insurance policies are Monroe Borough, which has 51 of them; Athens Township, which has 30; Ridgebury Township, which has 29; South Creek Township, which has 25; and Towanda Borough, which has 16, according to data from FEMA.
In South Creek Township, the homes in the flood zone are located along South Creek or its tributaries, township Secretary Linda Leonard said.
"Due to the enormous cost of flood insurance, building or development along the creek will probably cease," she said. "People will have trouble with getting permits to even fix their homes, and especially in selling their homes."
She added, "Many of the flooding problems in our area would lessen if the Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers would let the municipalities or some entity clean out the creeks. The huge gravel bars and log jams from the flooding in 2011 are still in the creeks because no one can afford to fix them. There is no money from any source to do this. You can't use State Liquid Fuels money, you can't use FEMA/PEMA money, you can't use Impact Fee money and that leaves only local taxpayer dollars or the land owner along the creek to do gravel bar and log jam removal - if they can even get a permit to get into the creek."
In Towanda Borough, several residents interviewed by The Review weren't just concerned about rising insurance premiums. These Towanda residents, who live on William Street and Mix Avenue, said their homes have never flooded, even though they are in a flood zone.
One of the Towanda residents who was interviewed, Dirk Preston, said he has been paying a total $1,800 in flood insurance annually on the home he lives in on William Street and on another home he owns on the Merrill Parkway. The flood insurance is a requirement of the mortgages he has, he said.
But neither home has been flooded, even during Tropical Storm Lee, he said.
"We're wasting money big time" paying for flood insurance, said Preston's wife, Linda Preston.
Towanda Borough has filed an appeal of the location of the borough's flood zone in FEMA's preliminary flood insurance rate map for the borough, borough manager Kyle V. Lane said. FEMA is scheduled to adopt the map in October 2014.
The appeal was filed because some homes in the flood zone have not flooded in the past, while others in the flood zone are not expected to flood, due to improvements that have been made to the borough's storm sewer system, Lane said.
Kelly Flynn, co-owner of the Bradford Inn in Towanda, said she objects to the fact that FEMA has placed her business in a flood zone in the borough's Preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Map.
The only flooding that occurred at the Bradford Inn during Tropical Storm Lee, which was "supposedly a 500-year flood," was some water in the main building's basement, she said. The Bradford Inn's other two building's were not affected by Tropical Storm Lee at all, she said.
"I think it's ridiculous that they can just come and put you in a flood zone when you weren't even affected by a 500-year flood," she said.
In Ridgebury Township, the federally subsidized flood insurance is mainly on properties along Bentley Creek and its tributaries.
Ridgebury Township emergency management coordinator and township secretary Tammi Talada said residents are sure to respond negatively to any increase to flood insurance rates, which Talada said are already high to begin with.
"Any kind of an increase is not going to make people happy," she said.
Review staff writers Tim Zyla, Eric Hrin, Amanda Renko, and James Loewenstein contributed to this report.