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Published February 17, 2010, 12:00 AM

Homeowners told to buy flood insurance soon

If you want flood insurance to help protect your home against a spring flood, buy the insurance this week or you’ll miss the boat.

By: Dave Olson, INFORUM

If you want flood insurance to help protect your home against a spring flood, buy the insurance this week or you’ll miss the boat.

That’s the advice of Clay County Planner Tim Magnusson, who said flood insurance carries a 30-day waiting period before it becomes effective.

Last year’s flood crest came on March 28, so waiting past this week to buy insurance may mean it will kick in too late, Magnusson said.

He said this year’s flood season is bringing with it some early issues, largely due to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s revision of flood insurance rate maps, which determine properties deemed to be in the 100-year flood plain.

Structures that have federally backed mortgages and are in the 100-year flood plain are required to have flood insurance.

If a structure has not been listed in the 100-year flood plain, but will be when the maps are final, homeowners can save money by purchasing flood insurance at a reduced cost before the maps become official.

Certificate of elevation

If someone wants to challenge a structure’s placement in the 100-year flood plain, they can request from FEMA something called a letter of map amendment. To contact FEMA, or to find out more about FEMA maps, call (877) 336-2627.

Obtaining a letter of map amendment usually requires the homeowner to provide a certificate of elevation, a document that is created by a qualified surveyor or engineer.

The certificates show the elevation of the lowest ground touching the home in relation to the 100-year flood elevation for that spot.

The problem: Many homes do not have a certificate of elevation on file with the county or city, or building contractor and hiring a qualified surveyor or engineer can cost between $500 and $1,000.

Magnusson said the county is exploring whether it will be possible to use county equipment and personnel to help homeowners establish elevation figures FEMA will accept, though he said it’s unclear whether that will happen.

He said one solution for homes grouped in the same general area might be to have homeowners join together to hire a surveyor and perhaps save on the cost.

City assistance

Tom Trowbridge, assistant engineer for the city of Moorhead, said the city plans to assist groups of homeowners to contract with a firm that can provide them with certificates of elevation at a reduced cost.

To date, about 75 people have signed up for the assistance program.

Under the plan, homeowners will pay the entire fee, but it will likely be lower than it would be if individuals purchased surveys on their own, Trowbridge said.

He said the city’s assistance program for helping secure certificates of elevation won’t be in place before this spring’s flood season, but will likely become available over the course of the year.

Cities and counties can challenge FEMA’s proposed flood maps if they feel they have more accurate information regarding elevations of certain properties.

Moorhead has already decided which FEMA map elevations it plans to appeal.

April 4 deadline

Clay County residents who may be at risk of flooding from rivers and lakes and who want to challenge their property’s status on FEMA flood maps can file an appeal with Clay County officials if they have technical data to back up their challenge.

Appeals must be submitted before April 4 to be considered.

If there is no question a home is in the 100-year flood plain and a federally backed mortgage requires flood insurance, most insurance companies will require a certificate of elevation before a policy is issued, officials said.

Determine if your home is in flood plain

For help in determining whether your home is in the new 100-year flood plain, call the Clay County Planning Department at (218) 299-5002, or the city of Moorhead engineering department at (218) 299-5390.

Moorhead residents may also call the Engineering Department to inquire about being included in the assistance program for acquiring a certificate of elevation for their property. The certificates can help establish whether a property is in the 100-year flood plain.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555