WASHINGTON — Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) have introduced an amendment that requires confirmation that FEMA’s new flood maps, which would cause millions of homeowners and business owners to buy flood insurance, are based on sound science and engineering analysis. In addition, the measure would allow a community to review a flood designation with an independent arbitration panel.
“Towns in Mississippi, Arkansas and throughout the nation are being affected by FEMA’s Map Modernization process. While it’s important that our nation’s flood insurance program have modern maps that accurately predict the likelihood of flooding, it is not fair to hardworking American citizens for the government to make determinations that can significantly affect an individual’s property value without providing an impartial system to challenge those decisions. As the Senate is considering legislation that would provide a much-needed extension to the National Flood Insurance Program, Sen. Pryor and I have come together to put forward a common-sense amendment to this legislation that will give affected citizens and communities a much stronger voice in this modernization process,” Cochran said.
The amendment, which Pryor and Cochran offered to the Tax Extenders package currently before the Senate, establishes an arbitration panel to resolve disputes between the Federal government and local communities. The five-member panel would be independent and neutral. Members would be chosen from a predetermined list of qualified experts, a majority of whom are to be chosen by the community and the remainder by FEMA. It would be modeled after the panels created by Congress to resolve disputes between FEMA and Gulf Coast communities related to FEMA’s Public Assistance Program following Hurricane Katrina. Communities that enter arbitration are eligible for the same reimbursements available in current law to communities for successful appeals. In addition, the amendment would require an engineering and scientific analysis of the methods used to implement the maps.
FEMA’s current plan significantly changes flood zones and in some instances does not take into account existing levees and other flood control structure, whether or not they have been certified by the Corps of Engineers, according to the senators. This action is forcing residents to purchase flood insurance, imposing new economic challenges on communities and burdens on homeowners, renters and business owners, without an adequate forum for the affected parties to challenge the federal government. Flood insurance, administered by FEMA, can cost homeowners from $131 to $2,647 annually depending on coverage and location. It can cost businesses up to $5,000 annually and deter economic development in communities.
FEMA sent letters to cities in Arkansas indicating they would no longer be eligible for federal disaster assistance, and residents and businesses could not buy or renew existing flood insurance plans if the new floodplain measures were not adopted. Mississippi communities along the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and throughout the Delta region face significant challenges under the current plan as well. Additional cities will be affected across the U.S. on a rolling basis.