The Federal Government came late Feb, 2012 to tell approximately 2,400 Grays Harbor County property owners that they ‘may’ have to buy flood insurance. This is no minor issue because it takes millions of dollars out of the pockets of county residents and sends it to Washington D.C. and to insurance companies. But it gets worse. Every property thus burdened with the new designation of being a flood risk loses value. This hurts all of us because land that has extra costs is worth less on the open market. The total value of Grays Harbor property is reduced, and thus the property tax rate must increase for every property. Think you’re safe if you don’t have a federally insured mortgage and yet live in a flood zone? Typically you won’t be required to buy flood insurance...yet. Think you dodged a bullet? Try selling your property to someone who needs a mortgage to pay for it. They’ll need this extra insurance. The premiums bantered about at the meeting was over $3,000 per year. In real estate, it’s a buyers’ market. They’ll just go elsewhere and find a cheaper property. Your property has just been devalued by the federal government.
I found out about the FEMA list less than two hours before the meeting and was flabbergasted. My property is river bluff, and my house is 120 feet elevation above the river. I came to find out the list was so generalized as to include any property that touched the revised flood zone, yet my land didn’t even do that. Whoever put the list together missed a property boundary, none of my property is in the flood zone. and I am safe, or maybe not. My address is still in their database and once one is on a government list, it’s often the listee’s responsibility to get off it. Such is the case here.
Among the things I heard from FEMA was that they would NOT be going to individuals to tell them definitely they are in a flood zone. The official said, “it wasn’t his responsibility to watch out for people. They have to take responsibility for themselves.” Oh, such is the attitude of our benevolent federal government. The bigger it is, the harder it is for its heart to pump. Not one official had any numbers they could provide. They didn’t know how many properties would be in the new flood zone, they didn’t know the average premium, and they admitted they didn’t exclude properties where the only new flooding would occur on riparian zones that you can’t build on anyway. I’m a numbers guy so let’s say half or 1,200 properties now are in the flood zone and the premiums are $3,000. That’s $3.6 million of disposable income removed from Grays Harbor annually, and much of that will be squeeze from seniors on fixed budgets. Figure also that new flood map will reduce Grays Harbor County property values by $36 million. Get the picture?
But I came up with a plan that may help many thus affected while also saving the county a few millions. It may also lead to a small building boom as it opens up some property for better use. I call upon the County Commissioners to publicly offer to liberally vote rezoning and zoning waivers to allow residents and companies who have sufficient floodable land they can split off from the buildings not in the flood zone. This includes changing some land zoning type, not just acreage. This action may dramatically reduce the flood insurance purchasing requirement because the mortgage usually is for the house and if the house is on a lot not in the flood zone, there’s no cost other than the surveying and splitting it up. Let me give an example with my neighbor across the river. Their family has a 20-acre lot zoned A-20. One of those acres has two homes on it and is on the east side of the river. Both houses are well above flood zone and the acre’s never been used for agriculture. The other 19 acres are on my side of the river and is lying fallow and because they have their two houses, can’t be built upon. To get to their 19 acres they have to drive about 12 miles. Under the FEMA regs, they have to have flood insurance because of the 19 acres. Years ago they twice petitioned the Commissioners to allow a property split and rezone the one acre as residential. Twice the commissioners said NO. This is absolute nonsense. It’s time for our commissioners to do the right thing and be proactive, and it’s time for voters to ONLY support commissioners who help the residents. We all know FEMA and the insurance companies are seeking to expand the flood insurance pool by including properties less likely to be recipients of bailouts, I mean, government kindness. But they’re doing it on the backs of unsuspecting land owners.