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Time running out to get cheaper flood insurance

SNOQUALMIE VALLEY - A new map issued by the federal government set to go into effect next month could cause flood insurance rates to rise for some homeowners in the Valley.

The maps, issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and set to become official on April 19, 2005, show which areas in the Valley were deemed most likely to flood and included in what FEMA calls the special flood hazard area (SFHA). The maps affect rates for flood insurance, which is underwritten by FEMA and is required for any homeowner with a mortgage that is backed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC). Many mortgages are backed by the FDIC.

Snoqualmie residents will not see much of a change since most of the downtown area has long been in the SFHA. North Bend, however, will see its downtown core added to the SFHA, in addition to other neighborhoods on the town's periphery. Jim Gildersleeve, an insurance agent at Farmers Insurance in Snoqualmie, estimated that 500 homes will be added to the SFHA under the new maps.

The most-affected areas will be in and around North Bend, including the downtown core of the city that starts at the South Fork bridges (State Route 202 and North Bend Way) and heads east to where the NAPA Auto Parts Store is located; the "old" Si View neighborhood located along Meadow Avenue Southeast; parts of "new" Si View along Southeast 12th Place; and the Maloney Grove Road (also known as 424th Avenue Southeast) along the west side of 423rd Street, 133rd Street, 421st Avenue Southeast nd all homes west of the 424th Avenue Southeast/Southeast 136th Street intersection until the end of 424th Avenue Southeast.

Flood insurance zoning may be grandfathered, meaning that its zone can remain the same as it was the day the property owner initially purchased the insurance. Homeowners in the new SFHA can purchase flood insurance at their current-zoning prices until April 18. Therefore, those not currently in the SFHA but who will be after April 19 can still get insurance at a lower rate. Gildersleeve said the difference in those policies can be significant. The annual premium for flood insurance on a $250,000 home bought before April 19 can be around $750, while flood insurance for the same home after that date can be as high as $1,800.

That does not mean the price will stay the same as the first day the policy is issued. The policies are renewed annually and the homeowner has the option of keeping the same policy or paying a higher rate to cover the appreciation of their home. Sometimes the latter is mandated by banks that want homes they have mortgaged to be fully covered.

What zone a home is in is not the only factor used in calculating the cost of flood insurance. When the home was built, if it is elevated and what city/county it is located in will also affect rates.

Gildersleeve warned buyers to be skeptical of cheaper preferred-risk policies. While these policies may cost less than a standard flood policy, they can not be grandfathered and are subject to zone changes in the future.

Taking out a policy is not a long process. Although it takes 30 days to go into effect, a new insurance premium can be purchased the same day one walks into an insurance office. If there is any question about where a home is on the new map, Gildersleeve said that is easy to investigate. While there is no map available yet for online use, Gildersleeve has a map in his office and others can visit the North Bend Community Services Department, 126 E. Fourth St., to look at the map.

Since the maps regulate how much people pay for flood insurance, they can and have been debated. Larry Stockton, director of community services for North Bend, said the map set to be adopted this month has been worked on for years, underwent an extensive review process and was revised multiple times.

FEMA engineers said it is uncertain what effect the river-widening project that was completed last year in Snoqualmie will have on future maps. The 205 project was a mix of flood-reducing measures with its major feature being the removal of sections of the banks of the Snoqualmie River near Snoqualmie Falls. The widened channel, project engineers said, could give a flood-reduction benefit of up to 1.6 feet during a 100-year flood event (a large flood that is predicted to occur every 100 years).

Ryan Ike, a flood plain specialist with FEMA, said that while FEMA did not take the 205 project into account for the map approved this month, there are opportunities for maps to be revised in the future when funding is available.

* For more information, visit FEMA's flood Web site at www.floodsmart.gov.


Editor Ben Cape can be reached at (425) 888-2311 or by e-mail at ben.cape@valleyrecord.com.

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