Even without Hurricane Sandy, property owners near the shore were going to face increased insurance costs this year due to a recent change in the federal flood insurance program.
With shore property owners being hit with increased costs on multiple fronts, state Senator Jeff Van Drew, D- Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, is asking local congressmen to revise the largely unnoticed Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 to provide economic relief for residents.
"Even if Sandy never happened, if the FEMA maps were never revised, this would still be a big issue," he said in an interview Tuesday.
The bill, which was passed early last summer, phases out flood insurance subsidies from the nationally run flood insurance program, increases insurance premiums on properties between 10 percent and 25 percent per year until reaching their actuarial cost, raises the annual cap on premium rates, requires minimum deductibles for flood insurance and requires more stringent requirements for obtaining flood insurance.
The bill as signed to ensure the national Flood Insurance Program would not run out of money and be able to continue, but Van Drew said the federal government runs the program specifically so people can live in coastal regions, and the change last year will make it far more difficult.
Some property owners have already been notified of the higher payments. The change in the federal law along with the damage from Sandy, new flood maps proposed by FEMA and new building standards from the state have culminated in a perfectly disruptive storm for people living or trying to live at the shore, said Cape May City Mayor Ed Mahaney.
"Residents at this point are still waiting for answers (from many agencies)," he said. "We want people to be able to secure flood insurance and at an affordable and reasonable rate."
The mayor also said he has heard from local Realtors that the high flood insurance cost is becoming an obstacle for people purchasing homes by the shore.
Officials from throughout Cape May County are working together to determine the best approach to get all the information on how all of these factors will impact residents and pass along the information, he said.
A delegation of mayors from the county met with state officials in Trenton to discuss all of these issues. This compelled Van Drew to write a letter to U.S. Reps. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, Jon Runyan, R-3rd, and Frank Pallone, D-6th, asking them to consider revising the federal law because of the economic implications on residents.
"The Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 has the potential to foster serious economic harm to the shore," Van Drew wrote. "The potential for flood insurance premiums to rise so quickly and significantly, on top of the damage created by Super Storm Sandy and the new FEMA Flood Maps are more than the our coastal economy can tolerate."
The congressmen could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.
Van Drew said he wants Congress to slow the amount the insurance premiums increase so they can study the economic impact on the residents. This bill affects not only people along the Jersey Shore but in coastal areas nationwide, Van Drew said.
Cape May County Freeholder Vice Director and Sea Isle City Mayor Len Desiderio said many local officials are concerned about the economic impact this will have on residents — especially residents who have lived in the area for a long time and can't afford increases.
"If it's for new construction or a home severely damaged (it would make more sense) but if you've lived near the coast for years and never had problems with flooding, it could be too much of an obstacle to overcome," he said.
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