U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp today urged Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate to keep intact the basement exception that allows the lowest proofed opening in a home to be used for determining flood insurance rates.
Heitkamp wants to make sure that, as the Flood Insurance Act of 2012 is implemented, North Dakotans, who have adopted rigorous flood-proofing systems, are not lumped in with other regions of the country in terms of flood insurance, where the lowest floor is used as the basis for determining rates.
For insurance purposes, FEMA requires that the lowest floor of a residential building be above the expected height of the 100 year flood plain. Basements are usually below this level. But certain communities that flood-proof their basements, including some in North Dakota, have received basement exceptions, enabling these homeowners who invested in their homes and communities to avoid an undue spike in their flood insurance rates. Fifty-four communities nationwide, including 14 in North Dakota, have such an exemption. In Fargo, which has had a basement exception since 1975, officials believe rate increases could be significant if the exemption is eliminated.
"North Dakotans have gone above and beyond to implement flood-protection systems for their basements. After making such critical investments that not only better protect homes and families, but also safeguard our state's communities, they should not be lumped in with folks in other parts of the country who have not made these improvements," said Heitkamp. "I know firsthand how important flood insurance is in North Dakota, and I am committed to making sure the program works for our state and that rates are affordable."
Administrator Fugate testified Wednesday at a Subcommittee hearing for the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, which oversees the National Flood Insurance Program. Fugate committed to Heitkamp to look into the issue and report back to her. Heitkamp plans to follow up with Fugate and keep North Dakotans informed.
Earlier this year, Heitkamp reminded FEMA why the basement exception was created, and why it should be kept intact. Heitkamp told FEMA that basements are necessary in North Dakota to protect families from extreme weather, and that flood-proofed basements have proven to sustain minimal, if any, damage from flooding. She also told FEMA that North Dakotans have relied on the current exception, and would be harmed by changes to the program.