November 25, 1996
Honorable Sid Snyder
Washington State Senator
Olympia, Washington 98504-0482
Dear Senator Snyder:
This responds to concerns raised by Dave and Ellen Palmer, who were flood victims in 1990 and 1996, and who are seeking assistance to mitigate future flood damage to their property.
Under the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), FEMA provides detailed flood data, such as the required elevation of structures, and the local jurisdiction must enforce ordinances relating to the data. However, the Palmer home was built in 1982, before Grays Harbor County's entry into the Regular Phase of the NFIP. Even though the County did not have the elevation data from the NFIP, the data was available through an earlier Corps of Engineers study which the State was using to implement its Flood Control Zone Act. The State did require that the Palmer's house be elevated to a specific flood level, based on its reading of the available data.
Subsequent events might show that the State's interpretation of the data was incorrect. However, the recent experience of large flood events may give a new perspective to this case. Data published in our September 1986 Flood Insurance Study showed a base (100-year) flood discharge of 55,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) at Grand Mound, slightly upstream of the Palmers, and a 500-year discharge of 66,600 cfs. The January 10, 1990 peak discharge was 68,700 cfs, and the peak discharge for February 9, 1996 was 74,900 cfs. Clearly, these were very big floods, both exceeding our projected 500-year frequency. Obviously, building to the regulatory flood plain level will certainly minimize damages, but does not account for the fact that large floods can happen. We are concerned about flood levels on the Chehalis and are considering a complete update of our flood maps as a result of these two events.
We applaud the Palmers' desire to take mitigation measures on their property in an effort to reduce future flood losses. They, correctly, are pursuing this through Grays Harbor County, which is an eligible applicant for FEMA Section 404 Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) funding. However, this process is run by the State, through the Division of Emergency Management. Applications stemming from the February Flood were due at the State on October 4, 1996. FEMA does not decide who should apply, or which projects will be chosen; this is done by local governments and the State.
The Palmers seem to understand this process, and are actively pursuing it. But recognizing that these funds are competitive and there are always more requests than funding, they are asking about other programs or policies that can be pursued to address their situation.
One thing we noted in the Palmers' letter to you was that they did not appear to have a flood insurance policy to cover contents. This is something that is available through the NFIP, but has to be taken out as a policy separate from the policy covering their structure. It is available for residential contents, and for nonresidential contents, which would include agricultural contents in an enclosed building. Any structure, including most agricultural structures, can be covered by flood insurance. This even includes silos, grain storage buildings and similar structures. While this kind of coverage will not help with past damages if a given structure was not insured, it is a mitigation measure that can be taken now to prepare for possible future flooding.
The Palmers state that FEMA (and the State, and the Small Business Administration) have not responded to their request for individual mitigation assistance. There is no specific mitigation funding program FEMA has beyond the HMGP described above. However, we do offer mitigation counseling assistance during disasters, usually through Disaster Recovery Assistance Centers, which were in operation through April.
Some of the assistance guides available for discussion at these Centers are enclosed for your reference. We will be happy to respond to any questions the Palmers may have concerning measures that are described in these documents. We still have a few architects and building professionals available to speak by telephone with people trying to interpret this kind of mitigation guidance. This may be particularly useful as it relates to advice on whether or not the Palmers' house can be elevated or relocated.
Another program that has recently been enacted in FEMA relates to the flood insurance policy coverage. Starting in Spring 1 997, the Standard Flood Insurance Policy will include a new coverage, called Mitigation Insurance, or Increased Cost of Construction coverage. This will provide funds for insureds to take mitigation measures on their own, to be paid at least partially by the policy itself, not through a grant program. Although not yet finalized, the way the program is presently envisioned, the insured can be paid up to $1 5,000 to elevate or relocate a primary residence that has been damaged over 50 percent of its market value, or damaged over 25 percent twice through the years. This will automatically be in the Palmers' policy if they retain their flood insurance; it will not help what has already happened, but will be available as a mitigation measure for future flooding.
The Palmers have been through much, as have many who have seen unexpected flood levels on the Chehalis River. Fortunately, they recouped some of their flood losses through flood insurance. They are encouraged to retain their policies and, perhaps, expand their coverage to other structures on their property, and to their contents. If they feel their policies are not rated correctly, we can assist them or their agents in assuring accuracy of rating. Claims and all other expenses in the NFIP are not paid by taxpayers; rather, they are paid out of the National Flood Insurance Fund, which is funded by ratepayers, i.e., those who pay flood insurance premiums. The program is self-sufficient in the average historical loss year and does not rely on taxpayer appropriations, although the program is authorized (and sometimes does) borrow from the Federal Treasury.
If the Palmers, after seeing the enclosed mitigation documents, would like to discuss mitigation measures they may want to take for their property, please feel free to call on Chuck Steele, the Director of our Mitigation Division. He can be reached at (206) 487-4682.
David L. de Courcy