Four years after Tropical Storm Irene devastated central and southern Vermont, federal officials have identified nearly 900 properties in Bennington County as being in high-risk areas for future floods.
Property owners now have a three-month window to buy flood insurance before the cost of coverage will increase.
Flood hazard zones in Bennington County have been under review by federal and state officials and new maps showing areas now identified as high-risk are ready to be rolled out and take effect in December.
At recent meetings, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the state briefed property owners on whether they should acquire or update a flood insurance policy.
John Cullinan of Sunderland has property that was previously determined to be in a flood hazard area. But he's taking issue with that assessment.
"I say no, FEMA says yes. So it's a matter of discussion and going through the technological assays that they have,” Cullinan said.
“They have better maps coming out... at that point it can be addressed whether I am or not (in a flood hazard area). And of course many other people are impacted in that same manner," he added.
The state and federal experts set up their laptops and reviewed maps with interested property owners. For those now considered to be in the newly drawn high risk flood hazard zones around the county, there's a window of opportunity to acquire flood hazard insurance at reduced rates up until Dec. 2.
Ned Swanberg is mapping and planning coordinator for Agency of Natural Resources rivers program. He says flood insurance is required if you live in a higher risk area and you carry a mortgage on the property.
"The key thing we're trying to get across today is to reach people in a building that until now have been shown to be of low risk and the new maps coming out in December show them to be at a higher risk,” he said. “These people have a chance to get flood insurance under the old low-risk rate."
Property owners will get a break on the price and in effect have their properties "grandfathered" for insurance purposes. But Craig Powers of the Shaw Insurance company in Manchester says they need to act quickly.
“There are tremendous amounts of regulations and rules that go along with obtaining flood insurance coverage and maintaining flood insurance coverage, and those rules change all the time," Powers said. And as those rules change, he said, policyholders can be subject to "huge" premium increases.
Powers urged people to update their policies now.
"Homeowners can slow the premium increases over the next five to six years by purchasing flood insurance before the flood zone maps change. However time is running out,” he said.
Homes built before 1974 — when the federal flood mapping began — may qualify for federally subsidized rates if they were constructed before they were considered to be in a high risk flood zone.
All told, nearly 900 properties in Bennington county have been identified as being in a high-risk area, a net increase of about 100 more than were on earlier maps. Officials say the change can't be attributed to new data from Irene since the revisions were underway before the 2011 storm.
The new flood zone maps are available for viewing at tinyurl.com/floodreadyatlas