New R.I. Flood Maps Create Confusion, Add Cost

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

WARWICK, R.I. — Confusion reigns as the new federal flood maps and flood insurance rates are released for Rhode Island.

A recent outreach meeting at City Hall offered coastal residents in Kent and Providence counties a chance to see the new maps and understand what the changing flood zones mean for them.

An unscientific sample of the 80 or so attendees revealed that flood insurance premiums have changed little. Some homeowners, however, learned of a huge premium increase, a jump caused by many factors. The biggest, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), is that rates are no longer subsidized by the federal government.

During the next five years, rates will increase to market levels, which can mean big increases for some property owners.

The feds also are turning the screws on mortgage companies, requiring them to make sure customers pay their insurance premiums. In the past, there was little enforcement if a policyholder stopped paying his or her premiums. Now the feds will audit mortgage companies to ensure that payments are being made.

There also is a slew of other circumstances that can cause insurance premiums to change, such as the age of the structure, its elevation and if it’s a primary residence, business or investment property.

Many rates started going up in January and other policyholders will see rates change in October and into next year, when many of the “grandfathered” properties lose their exemption.

Residents from the Conimicut neighborhood talked of shopping for insurance agents to get lower premiums. Michelle Burnett, the state floodplain coordinator for the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency, said rate shopping won’t likely help as the final rates are determined by the National Flood Insurance Program.

“Theoretically, if you were to shop around you’d see the same premium across the board,” she said. Although, she said, insurance agents may value such factors as elevation and deductibles differently.

City Council President Donna Travis said residents in the Oakland neighborhood, where she lives, have complained of higher insurance premiums, along with higher sewer and water rates. “I’ve got constituents saying if (their flood insurance premium) goes up too much they are going to have to move," she said.

Each community must approve their maps. East Providence, which had few changes to its flood maps, approved the new flood zones Aug, 20. Communities that don't approve the flood maps risk losing participation in the National Flood Insurance Program.

To see the latest flood map for your neighborhood, visit the FEMA website.