Logan County will remain in the National Flood Insurance Program so county residents can continue to get flood insurance. Whether the residents can afford the insurance is another question altogether.
Not that the Logan County Commissioners had any choice in the matter. The county joined the program years ago so residents could buy government-backed flood insurance. County Planner Rob Quint told the commissioners Tuesday they have until May 5 to sign up for NFIP again, or they’ll be in violation of their agreement with the federal government.
That prompted a round of grousing by the commissioners about the public input phase of the flood data and flood plain maps. Board chairman Byron Pelton said it was futile to try to get the Federal Emergency Management Agency to listen to objections about the new maps.
“There was a public meeting, and people voiced a lot of disagreement with the maps,” Pelton said. “Unfortunately, the federal government again chose not to listen, and now we have no choice. We have to do this or people can’t get flood insurance on their homes.”
At the same time, lenders are warning that flood insurance premiums could be skyrocketing as flood insurance providers are repeatedly hit with big losses. Lending Tree issued a news release last week that said flood insurance costs could rise as much as five-fold in the coming years as NFIP tries to recoup the losses it suffered between 2005 and 2018 when a series of mega-storms repeatedly swamped American coastlines.
The U.S. interior wasn’t entirely immune; NFIP paid out more than $61 million in claims in Colorado between 1996 and 2016.
A Sterling insurance agent, who asked not to be named, said he’s not surprised that NFIP rates are beginning to soar. He said he secured an annual premium of $1,100 with a private insurer for a customer who had faced an annual NFIP premium of $8,200. And even private flood insurance companies – a burgeoning insurance sector, according to FEMA – are being forced to raise their rates as well.
“Private insurance rates (in Colorado) didn’t go up for 10 years, and they paid almost no claims for years, and then suddenly they had these massive claims in 2013, so they had to adjust the business model,” the agent said. “You can’t sustain a business model that pays out $600 for every $100 you take in. They have to pay it back somehow.”
If the rise in rates is frustrating, that’s compounded by the way FEMA decides who does and doesn’t have to buy flood insurance. A website called FloodFactor.com claims it can predict the probability of any property flooding, but cautions that their predictions are useless when it comes to buying flood insurance.
As an example, a local property on County Road 370 shows up on FloodFactor as having minimal risk over the next 30 years.
“Although flood risks across the country are changing because of the environment, this property is unlikely to flood over the next 30 years,” FloodFactor says, and rates the probability of flooding at 3%. The property is known to have escaped flooding in 1965, 2013 and 2015, even when neighboring properties were under water.
But the new FEMA flood maps show the property just inside an AE Zone, which means flood insurance is required. And when new assessments were done in 2019 and 2020, the number of at-risk properties in Colorado alone shot up by more than 200 percent.
That leaves Logan County’s Quint with the onerous duty of informing local residents that they’re suddenly in a flood plain.
“The federal government people come out here and gather all this data and change people’s lives, but I’m the one who has to deliver the sad news,” he said.