- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Some lands along the water in St. Mary’s and elsewhere in the nation have a special federal designation on them that prohibits some homes from qualifying for federal flood insurance.
William Norton of Finksburg owns waterfront property at Cornfield Harbor near Point Lookout State Park. He attended a recent meeting describing changes to the Federal Emergency Management Agency floodplain maps in St. Mary’s and said only a few people stayed long enough to learn about the federal Coastal Barrier Resources System.
The CBRS is implemented by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect tidal creeks from erosion and to protect aquatic habitats. While a CBRS designation does not prevent new development, no federal flood insurance is permitted on new and improved homes in the zone. This prevents property owners from getting a federally backed mortgage — which requires flood insurance in a flood area.
Norton has carried flood insurance on his Cornfield Harbor home for 25 years. Now he’s being told if he wants to continue his coverage, he’ll have to get it through the private market, which he said could cost five to 10 times more a year. Norton’s flood insurance started at $300 a year and is now $1,200 a year.
“We’re talking about people who’ve obeyed the law for 25 years. Now to find out their property could be significantly devalued,” he said. “It’s very unjust and unfair.”
If someone can’t get a mortgage on a house because it can’t have federally backed flood insurance, then “I can’t sell it,” he said.
There are 13 areas in St. Mary’s affected by the federal zone, said Sue Veith, environmental planner with the St. Mary’s County Department of Land Use and Growth Management. They are typically creeks with sandy formations at their mouths, which typically shift around during storms, but offer a buffer to prevent further erosion.
Such areas include Lewis Creek and Green Holly Pond on the Patuxent River, Tanner Creek on the Chesapeake Bay, Biscoe Creek, the Cornfield Harbor area and Piney Point Creek, McKay Cove, Blake Creek and Poplar Hill Creek on the Potomac River.
Veith hasn’t done an analysis to see how many homes are in the CBRS in St. Mary’s, but in addition to Cornfield Harbor it includes some lots at the Landings at Piney Point neighborhood.
The CBRS designation became effective in St. Mary’s on Oct. 24, 1990, and is being added to the FEMA floodplain maps now being updated.
That means homes in St. Mary’s built or improved after the CBRS went into effect in 1990 cannot have federal flood insurance.
Because it is a federal program, “it takes an act of Congress to change it,” Veith said. “We don’t have any control over it. We didn’t have a say when it was put in place.”
Homes that had flood insurance before the program began in 1990 without lapse and were not improved since then can keep flood insurance, she said. Otherwise, if someone has federal flood insurance in the zone, the policy was written in error, Veith said.
“If written in error and no claim has been paid, the policyholder should be able to request a refund of the premiums,” she said.
In some instances, people buy waterfront homes with cash and don’t need to carry flood insurance because they have no mortgage, she said.
The whole notion behind the CBRS is to prevent people from building on sandy, temporary lands on the water. “These are very dynamic areas. If you have a major storm, the land is likely to move,” she said.
Norton said his home hasn’t flooded since he’s owned it, and he already bought 126 acres of land behind his home at Cornfield Harbor to prevent further development around him and to protect the natural environment.
The Coastal Barrier Resources Act “is to protect the environment. It has nothing to do with flood insurance,” he said, and yet, “it destroys property values because you cannot get a federally backed mortgage without flood insurance.”
He is talking with private insurers and looking for flood insurance should his federal policy be pulled.