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Erik Burgess, Published March 06 2014

Fargo approves flood proofing policy for new construction

FARGO – City commissioners took action Monday night that aims to protect future homeowners from potentially skyrocketing flood insurance costs.

The commission voted unanimously to change its policy for how high new homes built in the flood-plain must be elevated.

From now on, homes built in Fargo that would be inundated during a 41-foot flood need to have certified flood-proofed foundations or basements, and the lowest opening of the home has to be at least at a 42-foot elevation.

Out of the 2,230 vacant lots currently in Fargo, 1,323 would need to flood-proof under the new policy, said City Engineer April Walker.

Walker said the policy change is in response to uncertainties in the Na-tional Flood Insurance Program, which was overhauled by Congress in the Biggert Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 in an attempt to remove subsidies and make the program solvent.

Because of the overhaul, some homeowners with flood insurance policies are seeing their insurance rates skyrocket from $430 a year to $3,235 a year as they move closer to actuary rates, Walker said.

That’s just the first phase of increases. As actuary rates are phased in, premiums can increase by as much as 20 percent every year for five years.

“We are very concerned,” Walker said. “We don’t want people to lose their houses over flood insurance rates.”

Both the U.S. House and Senate have passed bills that would freeze or ratchet back provisions of Biggert Waters, but the two chambers still need to meet in conference committee to pass a final bill together.

In the Senate’s version, rate hikes would be frozen until FEMA could complete an affordability study, likely around four years.

Both bills contain language that would give homeowners credit for their flood-proofed basements, even if FEMA raises Fargo’s Base Flood Elevation, Walker said.

“We were saying to

FEMA, you know, just because they lost the free-board, doesn’t mean they’re now at risk once the water hits the elevation of their basement floor,” she said.

Flood proofing can cost as much as $5,000. It requires homeowners to have a reinforced basement that won’t collapse when surrounded by water on all sides, Walker said.

Current FEMA standards require the lowest opening on a flood-proofed home to be one foot above the Base Flood Elevation. The current BFE in Fargo is about 38.5 feet, but that’s expected to go up to 39.4 feet starting Jan. 1, 2015, Walker said.

In the future, it could go up to about 41 feet, a figure derived from the metro’s flood diversion studies, she said.

At 39.4 feet, there would be about 2,300 existing structures that would be in the floodplain in Fargo, Walker said. At 41 feet, that number shoots up to 19,400.

Even if the BFE is raised to 41 feet, the new flood-proofing policy approved by commissioners Monday would protect homeowners from insurance spikes because new construction will be flood-proofed to 42 feet, or the required one foot above the BFE, Walker said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518