David Ball – For The Record

The storm surge from Hurricane Ike may seem to be a distant memory, but it was only eight years ago it devastated Orange County, particularly Bridge City. Moreover, it’s still hurricane season for the Gulf Coast.

FEMA is soon to produce a new flood zone map that will affect flood insurance rates, according to Agent Charlene Wappler of ANE Insurance of Bridge City.

The flood maps are scheduled to be updated and the final map has yet to be determined. Bridge City’s projected preliminary date for Flood Remapping is March 7, 2016. The projected date, however, is only an estimate. Go to www.floodsmart.gov for additional information for dates.

Following a map revision, homes that have been moved from a Preferred Risk Zone (B, C or X zones) to a Special Hazard Flood Area (SHFA or A Zone) will now face purchasing a flood policy if they have a mortgage on their home.

Homes currently in the Preferred Risk Zones are not required by their mortgage company to carry a flood policy, however, any home that falls in the SHFA (A Zone) is required by law to carry flood insurance. Property owners who do not have flood insurance and find their home will be newly mapped into a Special Hazard Flood Area (A Zone) are encouraged to purchase a Preferred Risk Policy on their property before the new maps become effective.

Obtaining a flood policy now with the current maps in effect will ensure the property owners two things: First with a Preferred Risk Policy in place it will allow it be “Grandfathered” once the new maps become effective and secondly those policies will qualify for the Newly Mapped procedures.   The Newly Mapped procedure offers a cost-saving option for property owners when a new Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) shows  their risk has increased, placing them in a high-risk area, also called a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA or A Zone). This procedure allows the homeowner to renew their policies at lower-cost PRP rates during the first 12 months after the new map becomes effective. In other words, they will gain almost an extra year at PRP rates. After the first year, the rate begins its transition to a full-risk rate with annual rate increases of no more than 18 percent.

Wappler explained homeowners with mortgages are the most vulnerable because the maps are still in the process of being remapped and she can’t say with certainly which properties are staying in the Preferred Risk Areas.

“FEMA is still working on our maps and working with the city.  We can’t guarantee the maps won’t change from now till the projected date. They’ve already changed since first presented to the community two years ago” she said. “If you think you are at risk of being changed into an A Zone, it is a good idea to get flood insurance now while the rates are cheaper.”

The Preferred Risk Policy cost from $162 to $430 a year depending on the package you chose.

“If you have the flood policy in place when the maps change you are guaranteeing yourself the lower ‘grandfathered’ rates.”

Currently a $200,000 Preferred Risk Package will cost $405 a year.

Not only will homeowners get that rate for at least another year, but they will be stepped into the increase, she said. The “Grandfathered” rate is cheaper than if the homeowner waits until after the maps are changed.

After the maps change and that homeowner now is required to purchase a flood policy, the coverage of $200,000 on the building will cost somewhere in the price range of $1,800 to $2,400 depending if the homeowner wants contents coverage.

“This amount is paid in full at the time the policy is written. FEMA does not allow the policy to be paid monthly,” Wappler said. “If you have a policy in place when the maps change you will be ‘Grandfathered.’

Grandfathering a policy will help keep the cost of a Standard policy down. Instead of paying $1,800 to $2,400 the ‘Grandfathered’ price decreases by several hundred dollars plus allows you to step-up to that price instead of all at once.”

Wappler said a bank compliance officer told her the current procedure in place is a 45-day window to get a home in compliance before they have to force place insurance. Policyholders will have to get in compliance quickly after the zones have changed.

Wappler said she is concerned about young homeowners who don’t know about these changes and what it could mean to them and their financial future.

 “If it’s not done until after the maps are changed then it would be a payment in full with no step up,” she said. “And it won’t be long before these maps could go into effect.”

She urges policyholders to either go to www.floodsmart.gov or contact their insurance agents for more information.

Homeowners can go www.txchart.com to display the latest digital flood map for our area.   Note this map is not an official FEMA Digital Flood Insurance Rate Map (DFIRM). This Interactive Mapping Tool is not intended for insurance rating purposes and is for information only. The positional accuracy may be compromised in some areas. The map is not 100 percent accurate in locating your address.

“The time to take action is now; do not to wait until after the maps are out,” Wappler said.