Sayre council opposes flood insurance rate hike
The Sayre Borough council last week unanimously agreed to write a letter to state and federal lawmakers to oppose increasing flood insurance rates as the result of the federal Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012.
At Tuesday's hearing on the act chaired by state Sen. Gene Yaw and conducted by the Senate's Banking & Insurance and Environmental Resources & Energy committees, Yaw referenced Sayre as one of the communities where residents will be hard-hit by surging flood insurance rates as a result of the act.
The borough's Susquehanna River levee, which was constructed to withstand 100-year flood events from the river and Cayuta Creek, should keep residents of the borough's Eastside from having to absorb substantial rate increases, borough manager Dave Jarrett argues in a letter addressed to Yaw.
"The potential for unprecedented increases in flood insurance rates will negatively impact property owners in Sayre and throughout the Commonwealth," Jarrett writes.
Flood waters breached the levee in Sept. 2011, damaging homes on several Eastside streets. However, weather experts have stated that the 2011 flood was a 500-year event, Jarrett writes. Prior to 2011, the levee protected residents from flooding events several times since its construction in 1946, he states.
The borough's levee system has been recognized as among the best-maintained in the state by the Department of Environmental Protection's Bureau of Waterways Engineering, Jarrett notes.
Eastside residents who received assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency have purchased flood insurance as required by the agency, Jarrett said. The expected premium increases will add a burden to them as well as to as many as five additional homes officials have said may soon be included in the floodplain under proposed new flood insurance rate maps.
"The residents of the Borough's Eastside neighborhood have suffered enough as a result of the Sept. 2011 event, and they have never asked for more than what the Commonwealth and federal government were willing to provide to them to rebuild their lives," Jarrett writes.
In addition, Jarrett states that the borough's continued commitment to its levee, including scheduled repairs through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a PA H2O Flood Control grant of just over $1 million to elevate a pump station above the 2011 flood level, should be considered when calculating insurance rates.
"Our residents should not be categorized as a risk in the same way that a homeowner not protected by [a] levee system is. History shows that the Borough's levee can withstand multiple high water events thereby lowering the risk for future flood damage," Jarrett writes. "Any consideration being given to increasing flood insurance rates to property owners who are protected by properly maintained flood protection systems should be based on actual history rather than projected likelihood."
Under the act, residential properties sold after July 6, 2012 must pay the full rate for flood insurance that was formerly federally subsidized. Properties that previously had federally subsidized flood insurance will keep the subsidized rate until the property is sold, the policy lapses, a new policy is purchased or a severe repeated flood loss occurs.
In addition to Yaw, federal lawmakers representing Bradford County have proposed action on bills for rate relief. In a statement Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Patrick Toomey said he plans to offer an amendment that would slow the phasing in of rate increases triggered by a home sale and for properties affected by remapping. And earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Tom Marino introduced legislation that would repeal all policy aspects of the act entirely.
A bill that would delay most flood insurance rate increases for a four-year period was expected to reach the U.S. Senate floor as early as today.
However, at last week's borough council meeting, borough emergency management coordinator Jim Daly noted that leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives had expressed reluctance to act on a relief bill.
Organizations including the National Association of Realtors have also stated their support for relief from escalating flood insurance premiums, Daly said.
Amanda Renko can be reached at (570) 888-9652; or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.