Last updated: February 19. 2013 3:05PM - 1159 Views

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Thousands of Luzerne County property owners should expect letters from their mortgage lenders ordering them to buy flood insurance because of new flood maps that take effect Friday, county officials say.

The maps, part of a nationwide updating, will add an estimated 10,000 county properties to high-risk flood zones requiring flood insurance if there‚??s an outstanding mortgage, said county Flood Protection Authority Executive Director Jim Brozena.

Property owners also must comply with tougher building regulations newly adopted by municipalities if they want to construct or substantially remodel structures in the zone, officials said.

Another 8,800 properties are expected to be removed from the high-risk zone, including 500 in Kingston.

All but five municipalities -- Freeland, Hazleton, Hughestown, Jeddo and Yatesville -- are projected to have properties added and removed from the high-risk zone, county officials say.

Though prices fluctuate, flood insurance generally costs around $1,200 per year for $100,000 in coverage in a high-risk zone, officials say.

Brozena said he expects some property owners will be taken aback by the insurance requirement letters.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, did not alert individual property owners. Instead, the agency provided the maps to all county municipalities in 2009 and directed them to ‚??reach out‚?Ě to citizens affected by the mapping changes.

Brozena also sent all municipalities a letter in 2010 reminding them of FEMA‚??s notification instructions, but he said it‚??s unclear if all municipalities embraced the directive.

Risk factors for flooding

The federal government studied topography, hydrology, hydraulics and data from past flooding events to determine which properties near the county‚??s 800 miles of waterways were most at risk of flooding.

Properties in high-risk, or ‚??A zones,‚?Ě are statistically estimated to have a 1 percent chance of flooding in any year and a 26 percent chance of flooding during the life of a 30-year mortgage.

Nescopeck borough officials took the notification directive seriously, informing the owners of properties along Black Creek that they may be added to the high-risk zone, said borough secretary/treasurer Stacie Kachurka.

The federal government indicated about 64 zone additions and 15 removals in the borough, she said.

The outgoing maps largely based zone inclusion on proximity to waterways ‚?? not elevation ‚?? which justified the removal of some waterfront properties on high ground, she said.

Some added properties already were in the zone, but the new maps increase the amount of land falling within the boundaries, she said.

Bank requirements

Federally regulated lenders have 60 days to update their flood zone determination records and notify customers of flood insurance requirement changes, said Jim Hines, a communications consultant at Wells Fargo.

The 60-day clock starts when FEMA publishes its map changes, which hasn‚??t yet happened in Luzerne County, Hines said.

Kachurka said FEMA gives lenders discretion over the insurance requirement if land but not structures fall within the zone.

The federal government can fine lenders when flood damage assistance requests are made on mortgaged structures within the zone if lenders didn‚??t enforce the insurance requirement, she said.

Plymouth Township Supervisor Gale Conrad said her municipality will aggressively enforce new development regulations required as part of the maps.

The new rules mandate utility and property elevation for new construction and ban certain chemicals within the zone.

‚??If we don‚??t do what‚??s required, it could be detrimental to any future government flood assistance. We have to look out for the entire community, especially since we get flooded so much and are always turning to FEMA for help,‚?Ě she said.

The new flood maps may be viewed at all municipal offices and online at https:// www.rampp-team.com/pa.htm. Use the PDF tools to zoom in and click inside the applicable blue numbered box to obtain an aerial map. Any property in a blue-shaded area labeled as a flood zone starting with the letter A is in the high-risk zone, requiring insurance with an outstanding mortgage.

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