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VOL. 35 | NO. 26 | Friday, July 1, 2011

New law mandates floodplain notification

By Colleen Creamer

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Is your home in a floodplain? Until Metro Council passed -- and Mayor Karl Dean signed – a bill last week that requires Metro to inform residents within 30 days of placing property within floodplain lines, you probably would not have found out until you tried to refinance your mortgage or sell your property.

Previously, homeowners might have gone months or years without knowing.

The bill was sponsored by Metro Council members Duane Dominy and Sam Coleman, who say the May 2010 flood, the safety of uninformed residents, and Nashville’s marginally increasing floodplain prompted them to propose the legislation.

“During the flood last year, there were people who had been added to the floodplain that, when they purchased their homes, were told they were not on the floodplain,” Dominy says. “We want to make sure that residents who might be impacted by the event of a flood are notified they are on a floodplain. Floodplains change as things are built or not built.”

A floodplain is any area susceptible to being inundated by water from any source, generally areas adjacent to rivers, creeks, lakes and streams. Davidson County is considered vulnerable because of its number of waterways.

Floodplains are assessed by either FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers or Metro’s Department of Water Services.

Coleman says he sponsored the bill after his neighbor told him she had no idea that her property was on a floodplain.

“It should be mandatory that they know. They should seek flood insurance, because they would then be required to get flood insurance.” Coleman says.

Getting flood insurance would mitigate loss after a flood, but the new negative status could affect a homeowner’s ability to sell and or/ the property value in that the owner or agent would be required to disclose the information.

Becky Sullivan, assistant vice president of mortgage lending for Bank of America in Nashville, says homeowners and agents would be required to inform potential buyers as soon as they found out.

“And more than likely we will be notified as well, and if that’s the case then we would follow up,” Sullivan says. “I’d tend to say that would be the protocol. It’s a step-by-step process. Heaven forbid something happens as it did last May.”

Sullivan adds homeowners have the option of appeal if they believe property has been wrongly included.

“They only way they could, for lack of a better word, dodge the bullet [of being required to have flood insurance], is to get a certificate of elevation to substantiate that they are not on a floodplain,” Sullivan explains. “That is usually what we tell people to do, if they feel they are not in a floodplain. However, I think it would be prudent to get flood insurance if there was any doubt.”

Think your home might be in a floodplain. You can find out by going to
maps.nashville.gov/empublic_viewer.

The average annual cost of flood insurance is $370, FEMA figures show.

Metro Department of Water Services spokesperson Sonia Harvat says a floodplain is not a concrete line. During the May flood, some residents on the floodplain had minimal damage and some not on the floodplain had major damage.

“That floodplain boundary is not a wall,” Harvat says. “The water doesn’t know it can’t go past this point. People think if they are just outside the floodplain they are safe. From surveys we have done, the knowledge we have and the modeling tools we have, this is the best guestimate of what’s going to happen.”

Not all Federal disaster coverage is free as commonly thought. According to FEMA, some assistance comes in the form of grants. Other applicants only qualify for low-interest loans, which then must be repaid along with an existing mortgage.

No property is considered to be officially on a floodplain until FEMA’s website shows it is. However, Nashville’s floodplains are not assessed with any consistency.

“People are notified at some point, but the challenge is they may not get that notification for a year or two, and they might not get it at all if they didn’t refinance,” Dominy says.

Harvat says her department sends out yearly brochures to all homeowners on floodplains but says she believes some notifications get tossed with junk mail. She agreed with Dominy that flood studies are relatively random.

“It’s not necessary that they do it all the time,” Harvat says. “If thee is an area that has been fully developed, it’s really not necessary to do new flood studies, because it’s not going to change that much. However, if you have an area that has a lot of farmland that suddenly starts being developed, that is obviously going to change things.”

Davidson County participates in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which makes Nashville eligible for government flood insurance but must meet NFIP standards for floodplain management such as building regulations. Metro now requires that properties being built within a floodplain to be built at least four feet above the base flood elevation. That tic up in required protocol, Harvat says, gives Nashville an economic advantage.

“This, of course, gives us points, and so our flood insurance is lower within the community of Davidson County,” she says, adding there has been confusion as to who was eligible for floor insurance in Nashville.

“It is amazing how many property owners, even those in a floodplain, say ‘My insurance agent said I was not eligible for flood insurance.’ Every resident in Davidson County is eligible for flood insurance even if you live on the top of a hill.”

Harvat also notes that some insurance agents are confused as to who is eligible because they don’t understand that anyone who lives in Davidson County is eligible because of Metro’s participation in NFIP.

Maintaining flood insurance past what the mortgage lender requires should not be a burden given the potential loss, Harvat says.

“The number of people that paid their houses off and then dropped their flood insurance is amazing,” Harvat says. “We heard all kinds of stories about people who came in and said, ‘As soon as I paid my mortgage off, I wasn’t required to have it anymore so I dropped it.’ Flood insurance is not extremely expensive.”

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