By Timothy O’Hara, Key West Citizen, August 12, 2019

Photo by Rob O’Neal/The Citizen

Florida Keys government leaders will get their first look at new flood maps that, once approved and finalized, will help determine how much property owners will pay for flood insurance obtained through the National Flood Insurance Program.

Consultants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will meet with county officials on Aug. 22 to present FEMA’s draft report and draft maps, Deputy County Administrator Christine Hurley said.

FEMA has also scheduled the Key West draft map meeting on Aug. 21, Hurley said. Fair Insurance Rates in Monroe (FIRM) board President Mel Montagne confirmed the dates of those meetings and said representatives of FIRM, a local grassroots group founded years ago to fight crippling windstorm and flood insurance rate hikes, plan to attend.. FIRM officials will bring their own consultants to the Key West meeting.

FIRM recently hired Ransom Consulting Engineers and Scientists to obtain and analyze the scientific and technical data that’s used to generate FEMA’s proposed flood maps.

“We are waiting and keeping our fingers crossed, hoping we don’t have to go to all-out war over the maps,” Montagne said. “Ransom is very familiar with this.”

Consultants with Ransom will not be at the county meeting because the county has hired its own consultants to review the FEMA maps and geographic flood data.

The county is working with the Woods Hole Group to finalize its contract to have the company do a “technical review and modeling review of the new FEMA floodplain draft maps,” Hurley said.

“The BOCC (Board of County Commissioners) should review and hopefully approve that contract at their Aug. 21…meeting in Key West,” Hurley told The Citizen. “Given this schedule, I’m thinking we will brief the BOCC on the new draft maps at their Sept. 18, meeting in Key Largo.”

Windstorm and flood insurance rates are some of the biggest issues facing the island chain, as both wind and flood insurance premiums have steadily increased in the past 10 years, impacting residents on all economic levels.

When it comes to flood insurance, a difference of just a few feet of elevation could mean hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of dollars in annual premiums.

The Key West City Commission discussed the issue in March and encouraged all local property owners to buy policies through the National Flood Insurance Program in an effort to keep rates down by spreading the costs among more subscribers.

FIRM board member Steve Russ and Key West Flood Plain Manager Scott Fraser gave a presentation to the commission outlining the challenges Key West property owners potentially face with FEMA flood zone map changes, which areas of the island could see the greatest impacts and how to mitigate against flood insurance rate increases.

Fraser told the commission that the city will have to carefully review the drafts of the maps when they are released later this spring and may have to appeal it. The city is facing $4.6 million to $5.4 million in rate increases because of the new maps and possible changes to the rate structure of the National Flood Insurance Program, Fraser said.

At the meeting, Montagne outlined the annual flood insurance rate increases that Key West property owners who are insured by the NFIP are facing and how the increases may impact property values.

People with policies covering their primary residences can expect to see increases of 5 to 18% a year with a $25 annual surcharge, Montagne said. Non-primary home owners face 25% increases with a $250 annual surcharge, he said.

Commercial property owners can also expect to see 25% annual increases.

Every $500 increase in annual premiums could equate to a $10,000 loss in property value, Montague said.

Montagne also outlined FEMA’s new way of calculating rates, called “Risk Rating 2.0.” Rates would be set by looking at flood threats to individual homes, rather than grouping homes into flood zones, which is currently the case.

The rate structure, which will also take rainfall into account, will be in place by fall 2020, Montagne said, calling the new system a “total redesign of the National Flood Insurance Program rating structure.”

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