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Wendy Reuer, Published January 30 2014

Fargo officials say Senate-approved flood insurance legislation good news for homeowners

FARGO – Flood insurance legislation that was approved Thursday in the U.S. Senate could make a big difference to hundreds of homes in Fargo, city officials said.

Fargo City Administrator Pat Zavoral said the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act likely will affect about 600 homes that have flood-proof basements. The owners of those homes faced increased flood insurance rates after Federal Emergency Management Agency announced in October that the potential for flooding should be measured from the basement floor instead of the top of window wells constructed to flood-proof standards.

The Senate-passed measure will delay flood insurance rates from increasing while FEMA completes a two-year comprehensive cost study on flood insurance, followed by a two year timeline for FEMA to develop a plan to address affordability issues.

The legislation also continues the basement exemption for determining base flood elevation.

“It’s delayed the requirement for the higher flood rates for four years,” Zavoral said. “So it gives the city four more years to continue and complete certifiable levees throughout the community. If we can get to that point, flood insurance would become optional.”

City Engineer April Walker said the new legislation buys time for homeowners with flood insurance premiums.

“We’re happy it made it through the Senate. It does still have a way to go in the House,” Walker said. “It’s not the answer, but it is going to help.”

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar spoke on the Senate floor to advocate for the bill, which she said would help protect homeowners in places such as Roseau and the Red River Valley.

North Dakota Sens. Heidi Heitkamp and John Hoeven added the amendment to continue the basement exception.

“The bill we’ve just passed works to maintain reasonable premium rates, and with the inclusion of our amendment, also makes sure people get credit for the work they’ve already done to protect their basements.” Hoeven said in a statement.

Walker and Zavoral said while the Senate’s legislation is a good first step, the bill still needs to pass the U.S. House.

“We still have a few hurdles to overcome,” Zavoral said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530