With one constituent socked with a $68,707 premium, Rep. James Cantwell wants the federal government to reopen so that officials can find out whether any relief is available from federally mandated flood insurance rates.
The Marshfield Democrat said federal spending cuts had decimated the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s peer review on new flood insurance maps, and he is unsure whether the office will be staffed when Scituate and Marshfield plan to file a municipally funded review of the new maps.
“I hope the doors are opened so we can be able to file an appeal with somebody, because I don’t want to miss a statutory deadline because there’s no one to answer the phones and no one to receive the data,” Cantwell told the News Service last week.
On Tuesday, Cantwell said the government relations person he usually speaks with has been furloughed, and he believes someone will be at the office to receive the appeals.
While the federal government entered a partial shutdown last Tuesday and is on the brink of defaulting on debt, some property owner’s federal flood insurance bills have skyrocketed in what many see as an attempt by the federal government to recoup payments doled out in the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s devastation in New York and New Jersey.
Margaret Sullivan, a constituent who lives on Turner Road on a spit of land protecting Scituate Harbor, saw her premium rise from $4,600 annually to $68,707, according to Cantwell and a copy of her new bill.
Numerous attempts to contact Sullivan were unsuccessful and her listed phone number was disconnected. The Scituate assessor said the property is valued at $553,800 and has been in the family since at least 1978.
While the entire Massachusetts congressional delegation and Attorney General Martha Coakley have called for a delay in premium hikes, Washington D.C. has been wrestling with the more existential question of whether and how to agree on a funding bill to keep the government open.
The stalemate dragged into its second week Tuesday, as Republicans continued to insist on delays to the Affordable Care Act, and President Barack Obama said he would not negotiate “with a gun held to the head of the American people.”
The bills are still due for flood insurance payments.
“No one gets a tax delay from the shutdown,” said Cantwell.
The maps were redrawn in accordance with the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, which changed flood insurance subsidies and called for new, more accurate maps to keep the National Flood Insurance Program financially solvent.
Cantwell said the federal funding cuts known as the sequester hindered the agency from conducting a robust review of the new maps, and said many of the predicted flooding levels are outlandish.
Bob Warner, who owns The Mill Wharf Restaurant in Scituate, said his property is already raised off the ground, and the new maps show the waters seven feet higher. He said even during the 1991 “perfect storm” water didn’t reach the building, and he said Scituate is protected by Cape Cod from the effect of a hurricane, such as the one that battered and swamped the Jersey Shore last fall.
“Normally what happens after those preliminary maps come back, they would have money and they would do a thing called peer review, they’d hire engineers to check them out to make sure – it was never done, and part of what they’re saying is, they didn’t have the money,” said Cantwell. He said, “This data is 800 pages long. Marshfield’s spending about $40,000 to review it. Scituate’s going to have to spend a similar amount. And they’re telling me their peer review was done by this one engineer, who’s like a 24-year-old woman.”
For a homeowner with a $300,000 mortgage who goes from having no flood insurance to a coastal high-hazard area, monthly flood insurance rates can go from zero to $1,250, according to an analysis by Jack Conway & Company realtors.
Cantwell said he agrees the program needs to be expanded from the 5.7 million people now, and he said without a federal program, flood insurance rates could be twice as much.
With a skeleton crew staffing many federal agencies, Cantwell said he is concerned about the ability for Marshfield and Scituate to file appeals along with the Woods Hole Group’s engineering analysis, which cost the towns about $40,000 each.
The state lawmaker, who has warned that the new mapping will affect inland areas as well, said the shutdown has also impeded his ability to find answers for the beachfront property owners who received the $68,000 spike.
“I think it has to be an error, but I can’t reach anybody now to help put this person at ease,” Cantwell said.