FEMA stresses renewal of flood insurance policiesFlood insurance turned out to be a smart buy for Doug Madsen last year.
Flood insurance turned out to be a smart buy for Doug Madsen last year.
His policy covered the $3,100 in water seepage damage to his rural Harwood, N.D., home caused by the swollen Sheyenne River flowing through his backyard.
The $1,000 he received for his sandbag levee, pumps and other flood protection efforts offset his $1,000 deductible.
But, as of last week, Madsen hadn’t decided whether to renew the policy before this spring.
“If we don’t get that much more snow, probably not,” he said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which teamed up with the state last year in an outreach effort that helped more than double the number of flood insurance policies in North Dakota, is hoping homeowners will reconsider letting their policies expire.
Local insurance agents say they’re not seeing a run on flood policies like they did last year, despite a National Weather Service forecast calling for a 49 percent chance of major flooding this spring – odds that are likely to go up after this past weekend’s storm.
“We haven’t seen too many,” said Darrick Yahnke, an agent with Yahnke Insurance Agency in Fargo. “We’ve had a few people inquire on it, but they were people that had inquired on it before, also. So, it’s nothing like it was last year at all.”
The number of flood insurance policies in force in North Dakota skyrocketed from February to April of 2009, as flood forecasts worsened and FEMA and state officials campaigned about the importance of flood insurance.
Statewide, last year’s policy count jumped from 4,528 in February to 8,728 in March to 13,351 in April, according to Dave Kyner, National Flood Insurance Program specialist for North Dakota.
The number of policies had dropped to 13,310 in September, the most recent count available.
“But that’s still a positive picture,” Kyner said.
In 2009, Fargo’s policy count climbed from 586 in February to 1,273 in September, a 117 percent increase, while Moorhead’s count increased from 175 to 664 during the same period.
Kyner and local agents say homeowners shouldn’t delay buying flood insurance, because policies have a 30-day waiting period before they take effect.
Because many waited too long before buying policies last year, they wouldn’t have been covered if Fargo-Moorhead’s levees had failed when the Red River crested at a record 40.84 feet on March 28.
“We had a ton of them,” said Doug Kleingartner, a Farmers Union Insurance agent in Fargo.
Kyner said FEMA won’t know the long-term effects of its outreach efforts until March or April, when policyholders decide whether to renew.
“The whole thrust of this was to tell people, get the policies purchased, don’t try to time this event, because if you do, it could in fact bite you in the fanny,” he said.
Flood insurance premiums haven’t changed since last year. A policy with the maximum $250,000 of building coverage and $100,000 of contents coverage costs $388 annually.
“It’s a pretty low premium just to have peace of mind,” Kleingartner said.
On Friday, the weather service will release its next flood outlook, which will include precipitation received through Monday morning, hydrologist Mike Lukes said. The chances of major flooding will probably increase slightly because of this past weekend’s storm, he said.
“I imagine they’ll bump it up a little,” he said.
It’s not only flooding concerns that have people in Fargo-Moorhead shopping for policies. Agents say some homeowners are looking to buy now to ensure they’re grandfathered in under current preferred-area premium rates before FEMA releases a new flood insurance rate map that could bring their homes into high-risk areas.
“I would say we’re still shooting for sometime in June for a preliminary map,” said Nancy Steinberger, the regional hydraulic engineer for FEMA’s Region 8.
The map’s release will be followed by a 30-day public comment period, an appeal period and a compliance period. It usually takes 12 to 14 months from the preliminary release until the map becomes finalized, she said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528