Recent information has come to light regarding flood insurance in the greater Minot area. People who were once required to carry expensive flood insurance might have to do so again if the current levee system on the Mouse River is not re-certified.
John Pietsch, chairman of the Ward County Water Resource Board, appeared Tuesday at a meeting of the Ward County Board of Commissioners to discuss the situation.
"One of the requirements of the National Flood Insurance Program is that the levee be certified by a licensed professional engineer," Pietsch said.
Photos by Dave Caldwell/MDN
Several area levees, like these in Tierracita Vallejo and off Del Nor Drive, have been altered or had objects placed on them. According to John Pietsch, chairman of the Ward County Water Resource Board, this makes it more difficult for the levee system to be re-certified by engineers – a necessary step for everyone on the other side of the levee to avoid paying flood insurance.
He explained that before Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Army Corps of Engineers had certified the levees, which the Corps built years ago. But Pietsch said that in a meeting with the Corps on Oct. 20, Corps representative Dana Warner told the board that he didn't know of any engineering firms in the country that would "take it upon themselves to certify the levees."
"That makes it very difficult to find a private engineering firm to meet this requirement," Pietsch said.
Prior to the devastating hurricanes, the Corps of Engineers was the certifying agency, but FEMA changed those guidelines, possibly to avoid liability in the event of another disaster. Hiring a private firm will also be extremely costly, Pietsch said, placing an "undue financial burden" on the levee owner in this case the Ward County Water Resource Board.
The scope of the project is indeed quite massive. When asked how many miles of levees the water board owns, Pietsch said "quite a few."
If the levees are not re-certified, the board will attempt to enter into a "provisional accredited levee" agreement with FEMA.
"They would take care of levees that have been accredited in the past," Pietsch said. "That would be all of our levees. Once we agree to the PAL agreement, and we agree to comply with this agreement which basically states that we are going to take two years to fulfill these obligations to be certified and the levees are functionally up-to-date, then it will be resubmitted to FEMA, and they will either accredit it or un-accredit it."
If the levees are still not certified after two years, there will be one more year to get them up to par before everyone with a federally backed mortgage will be required to purchase flood insurance.
Pietsch said that some of the problems facing the certification are due to property owners placing things on the levees, such as gardens, railroad ties and obstructions.
"All of these things have to be checked out by the Corps because there is an easement," he said.
Pietsch said that not only is flood insurance expensive, but it covers relatively little.
"I did some checking, and I found premiums anywhere between $350 and $3,000," he said. "That only covers the foundation, the furnace and the water heater."
"And you may end up paying $1,500 to $2,000 a month," Pietsch said. "But you have to have it or you're not going to get a federally backed mortgage."
Should the levees become decertified, everyone on the other side of the levee would require high-risk flood insurance about 70 percent more expensive.
Pietsch said it is recommended that people obtain their insurance from local agents, which would likely result in lower rates than those offered by a national mortgage company.
People who aren't sure whether they will be required to have flood insurance can check their address on FEMA's flood plain map on the Internet at (msc.fema.gov).