Many Iowa Towns not Signed up for Flood Insurance

October 8, 2008

Even after a summer of record flooding, 131 Iowa cities and counties have not signed up for national flood insurance.

In Conrad, where Wolf Creek only washed away a deck on the town’s west side, the town recently updated its flood maps so it could sign up for the National Flood Insurance Program, which is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“This summer should have been a wake-up call,” Conrad Mayor Gregg Sharp said. “There’s every reason in the world to sign up, and it can only be harmful to you if you don’t.”

For some Iowa communities that don’t participate in the flood insurance program, the lesson was learned the hard way when their communities were flooded this summer. According to FEMA, 29 Iowans have been denied federal aid because their towns didn’t participate in the program.

While national flood insurance covers damage not covered by homeowners’ and renters’ insurance, it is not available for people to buy if their communities doesn’t join the program.

Bill Cappuccio, Iowa coordinator of the flood insurance program, said about a dozen communities have expressed interest recently and about half of those have joined.

Despite the lack of participation, the state isn’t cracking down on those communities that haven’t signed up.

“That’s because most of these are small communities, with little or no development in their flood plains,” Cappuccio said.

Readlyn, a town of about 790, joined the program this year. The Wapsipinicon River flows two miles away and only three homes sit in its flood plain.

Readlyn Mayor Herb Clemen said the town will participate in the program as a precaution.

“It didn’t cost (anything),” he said. “It’s just that the city had to approve it for the town to be considered.”

Now it’s up to those three property owners who live in the flood plain to decide whether they want to sign up or contest the new flood maps that show they live in the flood plain, Clemen said.

Many homeowners contest the flood maps because they don’t want to be required to buy flood insurance if they have a federally backed mortgage, Cappucio said. The federal insurance can cost between $287 and $910 a year.

Some lenders have forced homeowners to buy unsubsidized flood insurance for as much as $4,000 a year, he said.

The national flood insurance program was created in the 1960s to address the need for insurance and to reduce the impact of widespread flooding. Some argue that is places an undue financial hardship on homeowners. Others say it encourages development in risky areas.

Of greater concern to officials in Iowa is the number of homeowners who don’t buy the insurance even though their community is enrolled.

About 50,000 buildings sit in the most high-risk, flood-prone areas of the state, but only 12,300 were covered by any flood insurance when the floods hit last summer.

Source: The Des Moines Register.

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