Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

March 25, 2014

Federal changes make coverage for flooding rise

WELCH — Changes in federal flood insurance subsidies and regulations have southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia residents looking at whether they can afford coverage that will protect them the next time water rises around their properties.

An analysis of government figures shows that West Virginia has the biggest number of flood insurance policies that will have greater premiums due to the federal government’s overhaul of a subsidy system. In neighboring Virginia, more than 20,000 businesses and homeowners could see their flood insurance rate increase by as much as 25 percent.

In McDowell County, residents and homeowners in the towns and cities of Welch, War, Northfork, Kimball, Gary, Davy and Anawalt were all facing such increases in flood insurance. In neighboring Mercer County, Bramwell, Matoaka, Oakvale and Princeton property owners were also facing such a possibility.

City Attorney Danny Barie, of Welch, said the people who are seeking new flood insurance policies are having the most difficulties.

“They’re paying significantly higher premiums for significantly lower coverage than they would have had before the passage of the Bigger Water Act,” Barie said. “They (flood insurance programs) used to be subsidized, and those subsidies are gone now or disappearing. If you were coming into the flood insurance market now, you’re paying significantly more than you did before.”

The national flood insurance program works through private insurance companies, Barie said. Certain insurance companies have decided that an address change requires a new policy. The house or business might remain the same, but new flood planes and new addresses create the need for new policies, according to some insurance companies.

Barie knew about one Coalwood resident who was paying $200 a year for flood insurance. The house has not changed, but the insurance company has noted an “administrative change” such as a new address. The homeowner is now being charged more for coverage.

“He’s now paying $200 a month for a third the coverage,” Barie said. “We’ve seen cases like this.”

People facing such premium hikes could likely win in court, but few of them have the financial means or the desire to do so, he said.

“Subsidies are being reduced every year,” Barie said. “The federal government is reducing where it can.”

Word of the changes in federal flood insurance has been spreading slowly on the local level. Mayor Louise Stoker, of Bramwell, in nearby Mercer County said Monday that she had not heard of the rate increases. One resident who has kept flood insurance since the late 1950s also did not know that increases could be possible.

“No, the only thing I heard about that was one time on TV,” said Joe Vinciguerra, 88, who lives along the banks of the Bluestone River. “I’ve had flood insurance since we had the flood in ‘57 around here.”

He now pays more than $730 a year for flood insurance, but had not been notified about any hikes.

“Then you begin to worry,” Vinciguerra said.

In Tazewell County, Va., some businesses in flood zones have been seeing gradual increases in their flood insurance premiums. The Virginia communities of Tazewell, Bluefield, Cedar Bluff and Richlands were facing increases. Dr. Brent Warner of Warner Chiropractic in Richlands, Va., has seen his coverage increase during the last three years. In the first year, the premium was $4,100.

“It was $5,100 last year, and over $6,000 this year,” Warner said.

In contrast with other types of insurance, there are no payment options for flood insurance, he added.  

“So you write them out a check for some $6,100,” Warner said.

Warner’s family owns the insurance agency providing flood insurance, but they cannot do anything for his business due to federal regulations.

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