Spike in flood insurance expected to hit Seacoast NH owners hard

PORTSMOUTH – At the turn of the millennium, Glenn Normandeau became the owner of his family’s long-time property at 15 Pickering Avenue and thereby took control of the property’s flood insurance plan.

The annual premium paid, Normandeau estimated, is around $ 500 – a benefit that has been vastly underutilized due to a few severe flooding episodes in his home.

“We’ve never had, I touch wood, thank goodness, one of those devastating deals where the water gets six feet high in the house or anything like that,” he said. “Most of the damage that has happened is sort of a catch-up option. We haven’t had a scenario where we’ve had serious structural damage to buildings or anything like that.

Despite this, Normandeau is one of several flood insurance holders in the United States who will likely experience a hike in premium rates this fall, as FEMA National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is about to introduce a new flood risk assessment process.

“Risk Rating 2.0,” which is due to go into effect Oct. 1, is the “biggest change” to the NFIP’s methodology for assessing insurance premiums since the program began in 1968, according to one. January Report from the Congressional Research Service.

Unaffiliated with FEMA, a Brooklyn-based research agency specializing in U.S. flooding is sounding the alarm bells about potential spikes in flood insurance premium rates. Although these are only estimates, the group, called the First Street Foundation, found that landowners in coastal areas like Portsmouth and across the country could face significant rate hikes depending on current risk, based on changes to outdated and decades-old NFIP ratings.

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Normandeau, the longtime former director of the Fish and Game Department in New Hampshire, said he wouldn’t feel comfortable with a price increase, but it’s something he expected.

“The point is, the cost of living here at the water’s edge has become ridiculous. I have been here for a long time. This is a property my father paid $ 63,000 for and no bank would lend him money because it was the wrong part of town (when he bought it), ”he said. declared.

“It has become quite difficult for anyone without significant financial means to stay in the game here, so it will be just an additional burden,” he added. “Who knows? I’ll wait and see what really happens and we’ll make decisions then.

The intricacies of the 2.0 risk rating

The Congressional Research Service says FEMA’s current model for rating flood insurance has not “fundamentally changed since the 1970s.”

Current property rates are determined by examining their flood zone on a flood insurance rate map, as well as the occupancy of the property and its elevation.

Henceforth, “the premium will be calculated based on the specific characteristics of an individual property, including structural variables such as the type of foundation of the structure, the height of the lowest floor of the structure in relation to the elevation of the structure. basis of the flood and the value of the replacement cost of the structure. “

While the current model uses two sources of flood risk – a 1% annual risk for river and coastal flooding, the 2.0 risk rating should use “a wider range of flood frequencies and sources than the system. current, as well as geographic variables such as distance to water, type and size of nearest water bodies, and elevation of the property relative to the flood source.

Due to established guidelines limiting annual increases in premium rates, “Risk Rating 2.0 will not be able to increase rates faster than the existing limit for primary residences of an increase of 5% to 18% per year.” “

Portsmouth Property Valuation

Flood risk rises in Portsmouth, according to estimates generated by Flood Factor, highlighting what the group estimates to be a $ 2 million increase in flood damage to residential properties in the city in 30 years. The costs of flood damage, they predict, will drop from $ 5.6 million to $ 7.6 million.

Operated by the First Street Foundation, Flood factor is an online tool that individuals can use to research flood risk estimates for their own property, as well as other properties and municipalities in the United States.

Currently, properties across the country are rated by Flood Factor and categorized into five flood risk categories – minor, moderate, major, severe and extreme. Of those five levels, 907 Portsmouth properties are at risk of flooding, and by 2050 Flood Factor estimates the total will reach 1,195 properties.

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An interactive map on Flood Factor shows the city’s properties and their flood damage risk designation, with the South End city waterfront dotted with dark red dots showing their potential for properties suffering extreme damage from flooding. floods.

Near Normandeau, the residents of rue Pray, John and Joan Schorsch, form a couple whose home is listed as presenting this extreme risk, although they have never experienced flooding since moving to the southern district in 2011.

Having lived in Sag Harbor, New York, itself a small coastal town tucked away in the East End of Long Island, the Schorsches are well aware of the risk of residential flooding. When purchasing 53 Pray Street, built in 1740, the couple restored it, installing titanium pumps to combat potential seawater from the Piscataqua River while securing flood insurance.

Like Normandeau, the Schorsches could see their annual premium increase under FEMA’s new risk assessment protocol. “I wouldn’t like it, of course,” said John Schorsch.

He likened it to living on the first floor of a high-rise apartment building and being charged for the building elevator rating without ever having to set foot there. Just because he and his wife are located near the Piscataqua River in what is considered a flood risk location, doesn’t mean he had to use his insurance, he said.

“It’s a bit unfair,” he added.

One dollar now, save four dollars later

Due to a changing environment, resulting in sea level rise, new weather conditions and more severe storms, the risk of flooding is increasing across America, according to the First Street Foundation.

“A warmer atmosphere also means warmer oceans, which can intensify flooding from hurricanes and offshore storms,” the group said. wrote on Flood Factor. “Rising sea levels also increase the risk of coastal flooding, as higher seas mean more water is available when high tides and coastal storms cause flooding.”

So, says Bert Cohen, chair of the Portsmouth Committee on Sustainable Practices, we have a choice to make: “Are we paying now or paying later?”

Cohen said the human race must continue to explore and practice climate-friendly options that mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and other causes of global warming.

“We really have to make some important decisions if we are to keep the climate below two degrees centigrade (increase),” he said.

If global warming were to reach two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, scientists have found that irreparable damage could be done to Earth’s natural landscape. In June 2019, a NASA report found that “if the warming reaches 2 degrees Celsius, more than 70% of the Earth’s coastlines will see the sea level rise by more than 0.66 feet (0.2 meters), which will lead to an increase in coastal flooding , beach erosion, salinization of water supplies and other impacts on humans and ecological systems.

To stay under this benchmark, it is imperative that humans find short- and long-term goals that not only take care of ourselves and our immediate environment, but also the well-being of others in the future who will inherit. of a shackled world. by climate struggles, Cohen said.

“Looking at it now, what can we do to create a better place for our children, our grandchildren and ourselves so that there is immediate mitigation? ” He asked.

While unwanted by many, potential increases in flood premiums such as those projected by the First Street Foundation are somewhat of a red flag, he said.

By hitting closer to home, by hitting particularly against the portfolios of many flood policyholders, the issue becomes more personalized and presents itself as an opportunity to correct the course.

“When you talk about prevention and resilience, you talk about ‘How do you deal with the issues that underlie this assurance? “, Cohen said.

He remembers listening to an academic who said that for every dollar invested in solving one aspect of the global climate crisis, you might save four dollars in the long run by avoiding further damage.

Modern prevention, he said, can reduce climate-related damage in the years to come. If the 2.0 risk rating drastically increased flood insurance rates, perhaps this could be the time to initiate individual mitigation measures to prevent the climate from escalating into a catastrophic future.

“The more we know about the system, financially, environmentally, politically, the better we are able to understand where the appropriate leverage is to keep this temperature below two degrees centigrade,” Cohen said.

Consult your home’s flood risk assessment

Normandeau does not know how many of his neighbors and other acquaintances in the area also have flood insurance. If FEMA premium rates rise to prices in line with First Street Foundation estimates for risk rating 2.0 debut this fall, he thinks homeowners of flood insurance in the city may reassess their need. protection.

“The FEMA thing, it hits the wallet right away and it’s going to be hurtful to anyone who has to deal with it,” he said. “A lot of people could bail out and take the risk.”

Want to know where your property is based on the First Street Foundation’s Flood Risk Rating? Enter your property address to learn more about Floodfactor.com.

A report by regional USA Today Network reporter Hadley Barndollar contributed to this story.

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