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County Commission happy with flood rate delay

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Members of the Kanawha County Commission were overjoyed Tuesday by news of a delay in flood insurance rates that would have meant huge increases for thousands of county homeowners.

County officials have been swamped with calls in recent weeks from panicked homeowners whose insurance rates would have skyrocketed under the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act passed by Congress last year. The act would have ended insurance subsidies for homeowners whose houses are in flood plains or other areas considered as high-risk by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

But the act, which goes into effect this year, would have meant astronomical flood insurance increases for thousands of homeowners. The new insurance rates would fall on homeowners or new owners when they buy a previously grandfathered home.

"This is a crisis created by Congress," said Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper during a meeting Tuesday. "You can't just bankrupt people to teach them a lesson."

The Biggert-Waters act was intended to save the federal government money by clamping down on property owners who build in flood plains or other risky areas. But U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., who co-sponsored the bill, admitted after the law was passed that she hadn't read it, and federal lawmakers apparently didn't understand what the law would do to homeowners.

"This would have made 12,000 structures in Kanawha County unsellable and uninsurable," said Kanawha County Flood Plain Manager Chuck Gribasher, who first pointed out the problems with the Biggert-Waters act to Carper and County Commissioners Dave Hardy and Hoppy Shores.

Under the provisions of the act, Gribasher said, one Kanawha County resident would have seen his flood insurance go from about $1,200 a year to more than $12,000.

Some homeowners would have seen their house payments double because of the insurance increases. Gribasher said some homeowners said they would be unable to stay in their houses with the new rates in place.

But Carper said Congress seems to be willing to fix the problems with the act. On Monday, lawmakers reached a bipartisan deal to delay the implementation of the act for four years.

Carper said he has been in contact with West Virginia's congressional delegation about the devastating results of the act. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., are all opposed to implementing Biggert-Waters unless changes are made to fix the legislation.

Gribasher gave Carper credit for getting the attention of the state's representatives to Congress.

"All I did was use the telephone," Carper said. "Like a weapon."

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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