As the effects of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 turn from a trickle to a deluge across the country, there might be some hope in sight.
On Feb. 13, Representative David B. McKinley (R-WV) praised the decision by House Republican leadership to schedule a vote next week to ease flood insurance rate hikes currently facing millions of Americans and thousands of West Virginians. The vote will be on a modified version of legislation already passed by the Senate.
The news of upcoming vote came two days after the Wetzel County Commission passed an emergency resolution, created by Prosecutor Timothy Haught, opposing the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Act of 2012. The resolution reads that the act "threatens the very existence of our riverfront and flood plan communities, including our county seat, New Martinsville, West Virginia . . ."
The resolution stated that the implementation of the act would "decrease the property values of homes and businesses, destroy business districts and other businesses, negatively impact economic growth and investment, eliminate financing . . ."
The resolution stated that the commission "calls upon all elected officials of local, state, and federal government to oppose the implementation and enforcement of this Act until it is corrected . . ."
Also, the resolution further called upon "Attorney General of the State of West
Virginia, Patrick Morrisey, to immediately file or join suit against FEMA or any other government agency or authority seeking to implement and enforce the act to enjoin them from doing so and to declare the act as violative of the United States Constitution."
The final paragraph of the resolution stated that the Wetzel County Commission "further directs Wetzel County Prosecuting Attorney Timothy E. Haught to explore any and all legal options available by the County of Wetzel to legally challenge this Act and to report those options to the Wetzel County Commission at his earliest convenience."
Prior to that passage, concerned residents of New Martinsville appeared before Wetzel County Commissioners the afternoon of Feb. 11 to express their opposition of the implementation of the Biggert-Waters act.
The Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 was passed in July 2012. According to FEMA, the act "calls on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and other agencies, to make a number of changes to the way the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is run. . . Key provisions of the legislation will require the NFIP to raise rates to reflect true flood risk, make the program more financially stable, and change how Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) updates impact policyholders. The changes will mean premium rate increases for some-but not all-policyholders over time."
Resident Steve Pallisco was the first to speak at the Feb. 11 commission meeting, referring to the act as that "crazy flood bill that the whole county is dealing with."
"This craziness will not pay off the levies in New Orleans," Pallisco said. "I'm ready to get on a bus and go to D.C. and let them know we are tired of this."
"It's almost criminal what they are doing!" he added of the rising flood insurance costs. Pallisco said that the Senate has passed a bill but Speaker of the House John Boehner "will not move it forward." Pallisco said further delay would only destroy businesses cause homeowners to have to resort to foreclosure.
Bart Cannizzaro was next to express his disapproval of the Biggert-Waters Act. In December, Bart and wife Clare, like others who own property that requires flood insurance, received a letter outlining the changes brought about by the Biggert-Waters Act and how it would affect them. As it turns out, everyone who purchased property in a flood plain after July 2012, when it was passed, would be required to pay "full risk rates" as of Oct. 1, 2013.
This meant that the Cannizzaro family's annual flood insurance rate went from a manageable $437 to possibly $3,500 to $4,000.
To make matters worse, the Cannizzaros have a second piece of property in the Wileyville area that also requires flood insurance. This modest home, which they refer to as a one-room cabin, is now rented for a minimal amount. Combined, the properties will now require approximately $8,000 worth of annual flood insurance.
Homeowner Jeremy Shepherd and his wife Sarah live just a block away from the Cannizzaros. He stated that he lived on Clark Street and received the cost of his new flood insurance in December. He said his flood insurance is now more than his mortgage, increases from $755 last year to $7,611 this year.
Shepherd stated he has already made two payments on the flood insurance premium because he doesn't want to lose his home. He added that he was laid off from Murray Energy recently.
Furthermore, "They tell you that you have to have an elevation certificate." Prior to having the survey completed he was told that his premium would only be $2,500. However, once the elevation certificate was complete, he found out the cost of premium was almost $8.000.
Shepherd stressed the importance of finding a solution now. "I would rather lose my house now than go through the same thing in another four years."
Cannizzaro remarked that if people's houses get wiped out, "we've got bigger problems than flood insurance."
"(Biggert-Waters) is defeating everything we are trying to do," Pallisco said. "We cannot let our government do this."
Cannizzaro stated that concerned homeowners had met with West Virginia's House Representative David McKinley but criticized the fact that taking a loan to pay for flood insurance" was one of the options given by one of McKinley's staffers. Cannizzaro stated that he could not afford to pay the flood insurance but he would keep paying his mortgage. Cannizzaro added that his home had never had an insurance claim on it.
Pallisco said that the Congress had two other chances to bring the bill forward and to attach it to another bill.
Barb Minor, who was present for the commission meeting, remarked that she had recently acquired her mother's house in Sistersville. She said her parents had moved into the house in 1970 and had never had flood issues, in that they "never had flood water touch the foundation." Minor stated she could not afford "eight grand" a year on flood insurance premiums. She stated she had e-mailed Senators Rockefeller and Manchin and had placed phone calls with representatives as well. "Who are the morons in D.C. who passed this thing to begin with?" she exclaimed.
Commissioner Don Mason stated that the situation was in the hands of the federal government.
Recently Commission Vice President Larry Lemon had met with McKinley. Lemon stated that it was his understanding that McKinley was going to take the concerns of the people back to D.C.
Pallisco had also stated that "When it comes to folks' lives, livelihood, and futures . . . not everyone is rich," Pallisco stated. "These guys are all my friends. We are fortunate they have moved back."
"I've never missed a payment," Shepherd stated. "I live within my means. This is what you get."
"We've got to be national. We've got to pick a weekend and go to D.C. We run this country, not them," Pallisco again stated.
Prosecuting Attorney Timothy Haught approached the commission about the same situation that day, stating there were three ways the Biggert-Waters Flood Act of 2012 could be corrected.
Haught stated the first way was through the "normal legislative" process. He stated Congress and President Obama could keep taking action until the Biggert-Waters Act is fixed.
Secondly, Haught stated the President could act through executive action, forcing FEMA to suspend implementation. He stated the president could also direct the Attorney General not to oppose lawsuits that states currently have filed against FEMA.
Thirdly, Haught stated the state of West Virginia could challenge the Biggert-Waters Act. He said Louisiana intends to file a lawsuit and that Mississippi has already filed one.
Haught stated the best solution would be that Congress and the President would act, but added, "This is a political football."
In the meantime, Haught stated he has reached out to West Virginia's Attorney General in regards to filing a lawsuit; he added that Wetzel County could file a lawsuit as well. Haught stated he had told the state's attorney general's office that the county would work with them.
"Congress needs to take action and help people in places like Wheeling Island, New Martinsville, and Fairmont who are facing huge flood insurance bills," said Rep. McKinley. "We've heard heartbreaking stories in meetings across the First District, phone calls, and letters, and have been working daily with House leadership and other Members of Congress to stop these massive rate hikes."
"House leadership has listened to our concerns and is now aware of the urgent need to resolve this problem," said McKinley. "While the details of this proposal still aren't clear, it is a promising development."
"In the past weeks we've worked to ensure any solution will be retroactive and provide refunds to those who have already paid," said McKinley. "I'm optimistic this plan will include those provisions. It's unfair to expect homeowners to pay premiums that are 10 times higher than they expected and we need to provide relief quickly."
McKinley has written letters to House leadership, co-sponsored two bills to stop these dramatic rate increases, and has participated in informal working groups of Members trying to fix the flood insurance issue.