On Aug. 6, 2013, Bay Area
Houston Economic Partnership hosted over 50 representatives from regional
cities within Brazoria, Harris and Galveston counties for an urgent discussion
about the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 and actions that
need to be taken to protect the citizens and cities of Bay Area Houston from
potential disastrous repercussions of the act. Congressman Randy Weber, State
Sen. Larry Taylor, and representatives from the offices of Sen. John Cornyn,
Sen. Ted Cruz, and Congressman Steve Stockman joined elected officials from the
region that included Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jack Morman and City of Houston Council Member Dave Martin.
What is the
Biggert-Waters Act and what does it change?
Nassau Bay Mayor Mark Denman
chaired the meeting and gave a presentation about the Biggert-Waters Act. He
explained that in July 2012, Congress passed and President Obama signed the
Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act. It extends the National Flood
Insurance Program (NFIP) for five years. It also calls for the Federal
Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other agencies to make changes to the
way in which the NFIP operates.
The act makes several major changes. Higher
insurance premiums will be charged for homes and businesses below the Base
Flood Elevation (BFE). For example, rates for certain homes in high-risk areas
will increase 25 percent of the newly established premium each year over the next four years starting in 2013. No
discounts will be given to homeowners for properties below the BFE, even if
they met the building code at the time they were built. Pre-FIRM and
grandfathered rates are phased-out, as well. FIRM stands for Flood Insurance
Rate Map. Older structures built before a community’s first flood map was
issued are known as pre-FIRM buildings. The grandfather rule applies to homes
that were built in compliance with the flood map that was in effect at the time
of construction. Finally, subsidized insurance rates will be phased out for all
properties except pre-FIRM primary residences that have not lost their
qualification for the rate.
The rules for NFIP will
change, and the new flood maps compound the problem by changing the BFE and
increasing the floodplain. In some areas, the BFE has been raised by as much as
five feet. Rates for flood insurance will increase dramatically for many. It
has been estimated that pre-FIRM rates and rates for homes with repetitive
losses could start at $10,600 per year. Homes in the floodplain may become
difficult to sell due to this increase and may potentially lose their value.
Housing vacancy rates have the potential to rise, and homeowners with no
mortgage my simply drop flood insurance, which they can no longer afford. Sen.
Taylor stated that the economic ripple of the act could be huge.
Property tax base
The potential devaluation of
property could decrease the property tax base causing a negative impact on school districts. This tax base also provides crucial
funding for operation and maintenance of city infrastructure. City services
would be detrimentally affected leading to a potential increase in slum
and blight and greatly harming economic development.
What can be done?
Bob Mitchell, BAHEP president,
said that the Biggert-Waters Act is a very serious problem for the entire
region. Many properties that were in the 500-year flood plain are now in the
100-year flood plain, which dramatically affects their flood insurance rates. Biggert-Waters
will not only affect the Bay Area Houston region but also any region in the
country with homes and businesses in a flood plain – coastal areas as well as
property along rivers and around lakes.
spoke directly to Congressman Weber and the other congressional representatives
saying, "At the end of the day, you are the ones who are going to have to help
us. We need to know what we can provide to you to make your job easier.” Congressman
Weber replied that he will meet with the Texas delegation upon returning to
Washington following Congress’ August recess. He requested that he be sent a
white paper before Labor Day with a succinct description of the day’s
presentation which he could share with his colleagues in Congress.
Rachel David, Sen. Cornyn’s deputy regional
director, commented that the senator is aware of the issue and has asked that
he be given as much information as possible as to what needs to be done. He
also suggested that the mapping be examined to determine if there are any
non-accredited levies which haven’t been taken into account. FEMA won’t be
finalizing the new flood maps for 18-24 months.
There was additional discussion about
stopping the implementation of the act in order for time to conduct an economic
impact study as well as forming a coalition of city officials and flood plain
managers to dissect the Biggert-Waters Act and come up with a list of items
that need to be changed to accompany the impact study.
Before closing, Mitchell thanked everyone
for their participation especially on short notice. Informal discussions
continued among the participants well after the meeting adjourned.
Municipalities well represented
Regional municipalities were well represented at the meeting. Mayor Mark Denman from Nassau Bay was joined by other area mayors including Mayor Jon Keeney from Taylor Lake Village, Mayor Tim Paulissen from League City, Mayor Louis Rigby from LaPorte, Mayor Robert White from El Lago, Mayor Pro-Tem Michel Bechtel from Morgan's Point, Mayor Pro-Tem David Braun from Nassau Bay, and Mayor Pro-Tem Laura Davis from Seabrook.
Also representing area cities were Council Member Doug Blanchard from Taylor Lake Village and Council Member Wally Deats from Dickinson. Lisa Holbrook, district director for State Representative John Davis, CCISD Superintendent Greg Smith, and Clear Lake Area Chamber of Commerce President Cindy Harreld also attended.
Area municipalities who sent staff members to the meeting included the cities of Clear Lake Shores, Galveston, Kemah, La Porte, League City, Nassau Bay, Pasadena, Shoreacres and Webster. Harris and Brazoria counties also had staff members on hand for the meeting as did the University of Houston - Clear Lake.
Mitchell, president, Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, expresses his
concern about the Biggert-Waters Act before a packed room of elected officials
from the regional, state and national levels.
Randy Weber states that he will meet with the Texas delegation when Congress’
August recess ends to discuss the repercussions of the Biggert-Waters Act.