Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership    
BAHEP organizes regional municipalities to take immediate action on Flood Insurance Reform Act
8/8/2013


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.

Homeowners impacted

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 affected

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.

Mitchell 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.


    

Bob 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.



Congressman 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.


 
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