State reps talk flood insurance

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Linda Hansen, U.P. district floodplain engineer for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Water Resources Division, and Matt Occhipinti, state NFIP coordinator with the DEQ, discuss the National Flood Insurance Program during a session for residents Tuesday.

HOUGHTON — After a flash flood devastated the Copper Country last June, communities and residents have become acutely aware of the importance of flood insurance.

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality representatives were on hand to answer questions from local officials and residents in separate sessions Tuesday.

Linda Hansen, U.P. district floodplain engineer for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Water Resources Division, and Matt Occhipinti, state National Flood insurance Program (NFIP) coordinator with the DEQ, led the events.

The NFIP has three parts: flood hazard identification, floodplain management and flood insurance.

For communities to join the NFIP, they must fill out an application, pass an ordinance formalizing enforcement of the Michigan Building Code and approve a resolution of intent to participate in the NFIP.

In Houghton and Keweenaw counties, the only municipalities participating in the NFIP are the townships of Chassell, Grant, Houghton and Osceola.

After a 30-day waiting period, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood insurance becomes available to everyone in the community.

Residential flood insurance is kept to $35,000 until FEMA creates and finalizes maps of floodplains in the community.

FEMA determines whether or not to create the maps based on size and level of risk, such as communities on waterways.

Some communities in the system, such as Osceola Township, have not been mapped yet.

Private flood insurance is still available. However, the only carrier in Michigan is Lloyd’s of London.

“Those rates will be astronomically higher than if it’s through FEMA,” Occhipinti said.

The insurance covers a range of structural damage, as well as damage and loss to personal property. Premiums range from $200 per year to $1,000 a year; Occhipinti said the $360-per-year average for non-mapped areas is closer to what Copper Country residents would pay.

The premiums depend on factors such as the value of the building being insured and where it stands in relation to the floodplain. A floodplain is the area that would be inundated with water in a 100-year flood.

Flood stage, or elevation, refers to how high water reaches in a 100-year event. Hansen provides 100-year-flood elevations for a given location for free through the DEQ’s online request system, at miwaters.deq.state.mi.us.

“I give them the elevation that applies…that’s really what matters,” Hansen said. “The maps are meant as a quick reference to see if you might be in or out, but what actually determines it is elevation.”

For someone near Portage Lake or Pike Bay, the flood elevation is at 604 feet above sea level.

A misconception Occhipinti has frequently heard is people have to be within the floodplain — or conversely, outside the floodplain — to get flood insurance. However, if a person has a federally backed mortgage within the 100-year floodplain, flood insurance will be required by their lender.

Even within the floodplain, people who can demonstrate their home is elevated above the flood stage can be removed from the requirement, Occhipinti said.

Hansen and Occhipinti were scheduled to give similar presentations Wednesday in Gogebic County.

About 20 local officials attended the Tuesday afternoon presentation, Hansen said. The residential presentation Tuesday night was more sparsely attended, drawing only Nick Evert of Chassell Township. He said friends he had talked to had been unsure if they qualified for flood insurance.

“It was very good — excellent,” he said of the presentation. “Too bad more people weren’t here.”

Hansen said she would work to reschedule another residential presentation in Houghton.

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