State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, is absolutely right about this: Even had there been no Hurricane Sandy, coastal residents were facing significant increases in federal flood-insurance premiums anyway, as a result of a measure signed by President Barack Obama in July 2012 - the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act.

At the moment, of course, coastal residents and local officials are awash in confusion over the coming increases in flood-insurance premiums, the Federal Emergency Management Agency's new advisory maps that greatly expand the 100-year-flood zone (where flood-insurance is mandatory for those with federally insured mortgages), and the rules for building or rebuilding in this zone.

But the 2012 flood-insurance "reforms" - and reforms is what they are intended to be - were coming anyway. The idea is to make the National Flood Insurance Program stable and solvent, which it had been, more or less, until Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma put the program $18 billion in debt in 2005.

The new law allows FEMA, which runs the program, to raise premiums as much as 25 percent a year over the next five years. Owners of second homes and homes repeatedly hit by floods would pay the highest premiums under the measure. Residents who build or rebuild to higher elevations would see smaller increases.

Van Drew is now asking the region's congressional representatives to revise the measure to slow the premium increases, saying that the hikes, on top of the damage caused by Sandy and the new flood maps, "are more than our coastal economy can tolerate."

The state senator certainly means well, and he's not wrong that these are wrenching, difficult times at the Jersey shore.

But we worry he is sending the wrong message to shore residents and giving them false hope.

Without a federally subsidized flood-insurance program, the shore tourism economy and real estate market would collapse. And the Biggert-Waters act is designed to stabilize the program.

Consider: In four of the past eight years, claims have exceeded the amount paid in premiums, and the interest on the NFIP's debt consumes up to $750 million a year.

Shore residents need a stable flood-insurance program able to pay its claims, and - unfortunately - they are going to have to pay more to keep that program afloat.

Would it be nice if these premiums were not increasing, particularly right now? Sure.

But does it make fiscal or environmental sense for the federal government to continue to heavily subsidize life at the shore and encourage construction in areas that are prone to repeated flooding?

It does not.

That was the point of the Biggert-Waters act. The changes the new law makes are a price that shore residents have been putting off paying for decades.

And as painful as it is to hear that right now, it is the message that responsible public officials should be sending.


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