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Need flood insurance? Past is no guarantee as new flood maps debut in Pasco

Homeowners affected by new maps likely will see letters from lenders over the next two months about insurance coverage.
Homeowners affected by new maps likely will see letters from lenders over the next two months about insurance coverage.
Published Sep. 25, 2014

NEW PORT RICHEY — Got flood insurance?

Thousands in Pasco County who previously thought they didn't need the coverage could be in for a jolt.

The county is set to roll out flood insurance rate maps Friday that show nearly 8,600 properties previously in designated 500-year flood zones, have shifted to 100-year flood zones and may now need the insurance.

The remapping, the product of 10 years of studies, doesn't mean all those property owners will suddenly require flood coverage, but the consensus among real estate experts, insurers and county engineers is that hundreds of them — if not thousands — will be impacted.

"It's amazing that when you get into it how many properties in Pasco are near lakes or rivers," said Annette Doying, director of Pasco's Office of Emergency Management. "Even if you don't think you're in a flood zone you might be, once you look at the contours of the land and the way water flows."

Pinpointing affected properties can be tricky and the county plans to roll out a webpage to guide residents.

Generally, the updated maps that show the zones — known as Special Hazard Flood Areas — run east of the Suncoast Parkway to Wiregrass and Cypress Creek.

While all of Pasco has been digitally photographed, not all of the county's floodplains are newly mapped. Most of Dade City and Zephyrhills were included in the remapping, as well as part of Wesley Chapel. Remaining areas — Wesley Chapel, northwest Land O'Lakes and the vast swath of land west of the parkway — will be remapped over the next two years, meaning homeowners in those areas have time before worrying about flood insurance.

But that still leaves thousands of people in the middle of the county dealing with the insurance mandate now.

Affected property owners likely will see letters from their lenders over the next two months indicating how much coverage they'll need to purchase.

"I haven't been getting a lot of phone calls about this yet. I don't think the awareness about this issue is really out there," Pasco insurance agent Jeromy Harding said. "Once the letters start arriving, I expect to get a lot of phone calls. This affects a lot of people."

The amount of coverage will vary and some could catch a break. Only properties with mortgages whose structures reside within floodplains are required to buy flood insurance. If homes sit outside the zone — even though other areas of the property are in the zone — they may not need the coverage.

Chris Heidrick, a Sanibel agent versed in flood-coverage matters, said homeowners have options. They can hire surveyors to double-check the flood maps' accuracy or determine the elevation of their homes. If the height of a home's first floor exceeds the anticipated 100-year storm level, they might catch a break. To prove the home is high enough, homeowners will need a certificate of elevation from a surveyor or civil engineer.

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The average premium under the National Flood Insurance Program is about $400 yearly, Heidrick said.

The Flood Disaster Protection Act of 1973 and the National Flood Insurance Reform Act of 1994 made the purchase of flood insurance mandatory for federally backed mortgages on buildings located in Special Hazard Flood Areas.

Lenders are required to complete flood determination forms when they make, increase, extend or renew a mortgage, or a home equity, home improvement, commercial or farm credit loan. If a building is in a flood zone, the lender is required by law to ask the building's owner to buy flood insurance. The requirement is for structural coverage equal to the amount of the loan or the maximum amount available, whichever is less. The maximum amount available for a single-family house is $250,000.

Pasco, the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency undertook the remapping 10 years ago. Previous maps dating to the 1970s and early 1980s were less accurate. Indeed, the study removed about 4,000 parcels from 100-year flood zones because of new mapping technologies. New roads, homes and commercial structures built since then also accounted for many changes.

"One of the things that affects the flow of water is development," FEMA spokeswoman Jody Cottrill said. "If you have a field and it rains, the water soaks into the field. But if you put up a box store on that field, a building with a big parking lot, the water has nowhere to go except where the drainage takes it."

Bill Hyatt, a surveyor from Dunedin, expects a busy winter. He saw a surge in business 10 years ago when Pinellas homeowners called to request elevation certificates and again five years ago when Hillsborough was remapped. He expects the same to happen in Pasco, likely starting around Thanksgiving.

"I've already hired a couple more guys and got a new truck and a GPS unit," he said. "It will be busy."

Contact Rich Shopes at rshopes@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6236. Follow @richshopes.

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