June 30--Members of Illinois' congressional delegation from both parties pulled together this week to make sure residents of the American Bottom would not face a mandate to buy flood insurance.
The proposal to mandate flood insurance for individuals in the Metro East and elsewhere who live in flood plains protected by levees, dams and other flood control structures originally was part of the National Flood Insurance Program reauthorization bill. Earlier this week, that bill was attached to a package of bills that included the federal transportation bill conference report and a bill to prevent student loan interest rates from increasing. The combined bills were given final approval Friday by Congress and sent to President Barack Obama for his signature.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville, are members of the House-Senate Transportation Bill Conference Committee and have been working for the last several years to make sure that residents whose homes are protected by the Wood River Levee and other levee systems in the Metro East would not be required to buy costly flood insurance.
It was the threat of such a mandate, which stemmed from Federal Emergency Management Agency concerns about the protection level provided by the Metro East's Mississippi River levees and their integrity, that prompted the ongoing effort to upgrade the Wood River Levee and the area's other levee systems.
Durbin and Costello were joined Friday by U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, in announcing they had succeeded in defeating a proposal that would have mandated such flood insurance for American Bottom residents.
"This proposal was dropped into the flood insurance bill with little warning and even less debate," Durbin said. "Working with a bipartisan coalition that included Senator Kirk and Congressman Shimkus, Congressman Costello and I were able to remove this proposal from the Transportation Conference Committee. We will continue to do everything we can to protect the investment that Metro East families and businesses have made to strengthen their levees and protect against floods."
Costello spokesman David Gillies explained that the U.S. House passed a bill last year that would have delayed the mandate for flood insurance for five years; however, the bill never made it out of committee in the U.S. Senate.
But when the bill to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program was taken up again this month in the Senate, it included a provision known as "residual risk," which would have required many Metro East homeowners, even those whose homes were protected by certified levees, to buy flood insurance.
"It was something that would have been negative for our area," Gillies said.
U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., sponsored the legislation to remove the "residual risk" provision from the NFIP reauthorization bill, with Durbin as co-sponsor.
"For our region, nothing has changed," Gillies explained, because the area's congressional delegation already had succeeded in delaying the implementation of new Flood Insurance Risk Maps for five years.
"Our new maps aren't in effect yet, and when we get our levees certified, there will be no requirement for areas behind the levees that they will have to get insurance," Gillies said. "With our projects under way, they should be in good shape."
"This was a great bipartisan effort to keep this provision from becoming law, which would have penalized areas like ours that are addressing local levee improvements," Costello said. "The Congress needs to support these efforts, and we believe that the 'residual risk' provision would ultimately have made communities less safe by providing a financial disincentive to fix levees. With this legislation finalized for five years, we will continue to work with the Corps of Engineers to ensure the work to improve the Metro East levees proceeds as quickly as possible."
Durbin, Costello, Kirk and Shimkus joined a bipartisan coalition of senators and representatives in arguing that homeowners and businesses living behind flood control structures already pay local and federal taxes for flood protection through infrastructure. A mandatory one-size-fits-all requirement would ignore these taxpayer investments and actually compel responsible communities to pay multiple times for flood protection. After a week of fighting against the insurance requirement, the provision was removed from the underlying transportation package.
"Local residents, businesses, state legislators and the community at large have done all they can to move levee repairs forward," Shimkus said. "Some in Washington would have made all of that for naught, so I am pleased that we were able to stop those efforts. I will continue to work with local leaders and my colleagues in Congress to allow the local effort to be successful."
(c)2012 The Telegraph (Alton, Ill.)
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