Apr. 24—Two separate changes to the way federal authorities determine flood risk will impact how much owners of properties in the Susquehanna River floodplain pay for flood insurance.
Flood insurance rates changed for some of those properties this month, thanks to Risk Rating 2.0, a new method the Federal Emergency Management Agency implemented to assess flood risk. It took effect April 1.
Insurance rates will change again for some properties in the floodplain late this year or next year, when FEMA's revised flood maps take effect.
The rate change based on the revised flood maps will be much greater for some property owners than the change that took effect under Risk Rating 2.0, which is capped at 18% annually in most cases.
Some properties that are reclassified into higher-risk zones under the revised flood maps could see their flood insurance bill triple, Kingston Municipal Administrator Paul Keating said last week.
FEMA released preliminary revised flood maps in 2020. Kingston, where hundreds of properties would be reclassified into a higher-risk zone, appealed.
That appeal is still pending, Keating said.
Two changes from FEMA
The revised flood maps and Risk Rating 2.0 are separate things.
The rate change already reflected in some flood insurance premiums through the National Flood Insurance Program is based on Risk Rating 2.0.
The new methodology focuses on specific characteristics of each property, such as the cost to replace the home, its elevation and its distance from a water source.
FEMA describes Risk Rating 2.0 as "equity in action," since it reflects "a property's individual flood risk."
The majority of properties will see a rate increase based on Risk Rating 2.0, but some properties will see rates decrease.
A few Kingston residents questioned why their flood insurance premium increased recently, Keating said. The flood insurance bill for his personal property increased by about 14%, he said.
The majority of properties will see premiums increase by $10 per month or less under Risk Rating 2.0, according to FEMA.
Kingston officials feel they made a strong case in their appeal of the flood maps, Keating said.
The preliminary revised maps shift a significant number of Kingston properties from a moderate risk "X" zone into a higher-risk "AE" zone designated as a Special Flood Hazard Area.
If Kingston loses its appeal, owners of those properties will likely see large increases in flood insurance premiums.
FEMA did not take into account Kingston's history of staying safe and dry during high-water events and the measures in place to pump excess water, Keating said.
"We have our own interior stormwater pumping," he said. "That was not included in their determination. We believe it was overlooked. We never had interior flooding in Kingston."
The county flood protection authority, which maintains a levee system along the Susquehanna, supports Kingston's appeal, Keating said.
Authority Executive Director Christopher Belleman agreed.
At last week's authority board meeting, Belleman said he asked for an update from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which performed a study of the Susquehanna River basin that served as the basis for FEMA's revised flood maps.
No update had been provided as of late last week, Belleman said.
First-time flood insurance?
The preliminary revised flood maps place some properties into a designated flood zone for the first time.
Owners of many of those properties will pay for flood insurance for the first time, if no changes are made before the final maps take effect.
Twenty-nine municipalities in Luzerne County are impacted, according to information posted at the flood protection authority's website.
One of them is Exeter. Last year, hundreds of residents of that borough signed a petition protesting the new flood maps.
Owners of paid-off, mortgage-free properties in the floodplain are not required to purchase flood insurance but are strongly advised to do so, Belleman said.
The revised flood maps are scheduled to take effect late this year or in early 2023.