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Huntington Homeowners Will Get A Break

With permanent flood prevention years away, county offers to pay for flood insurance.

The Board of Supervisors has approved a plan to pay flood insurance expenses for the owners of 174 Huntington homes at risk of flooding. Mount Vernon Supervisor Gerry Hyland termed the $350,000 program a “stop gap measure” until the county takes steps that will actually prevent flooding, like dredging Cameron Run or building a floodwall.

Although dredging could be done in a matter of days, other measures could take far longer. The Army Corps of Engineers estimated a timeline of up to seven years for a permanent solution to be in place.

In the meantime, a good flood insurance policy may be the best protection available to residents of the Huntington floodplain. Many of them had to evacuate their homes for days in June and July due to flooding caused by a heavy rainfall. Because FEMA was relying on outdated floodplain mapping, many of the houses that were flooded were not in the official floodplain and had not been required by their mortgage lenders to have insurance. The result was that many homeowners had to pay tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket to clean their homes and replace furnaces, water heaters and anything else they kept in flooded basements.

FEMA will soon be adjusting its floodplain measurements upwards by about 2.5 feet, Hyland said, and when it does, the cost of flood insurance will skyrocket for anyone mapped within the floodplain. County staff estimate insurance policies will cost about $1,500 this year.

MOST RESIDENTS of the 1940s-era duplexes in Huntington earn well below the county’s median income of almost $100,000 a year for a family of four, according to Mack Rhoades, the president of the Huntington Community Association. He said Huntington is one of the last places left in the county where a house with a yard can be purchased for $300,000. For this reason, the neighborhood is popular with young families buying their first home on tight finances. Other owners have been in the neighborhood for decades. Many are retired and living on fixed incomes.

The flood insurance grants will only be available to owners who live in their homes. One quarter of the 232 houses on Arlington Terrace, Victory Drive, Farrington Avenue and Fenwick Drive are rented out. Those renters will be eligible to apply for a grant to cover contents insurance, but the county will not be helping landlords purchase flood insurance. Hyland said insurance costs should be built into landlords’ business model.

Renters and the 174 occupying-owners in the flood-prone area must earn less than $108,360 per year to be eligible for the grants. They can apply for insurance help between April 1 and Dec. 31 for insurance that will last through Dec. 31, 2007. The county’s Department of Housing and Community Development will administer the grants. They will distribute more information and application materials directly to affected residents.

Rhoades said he and his association believe everyone in the community should take advantage of the offer. “We’re going to be going door to door if we have to to get people to buy flood insurance that don’t have it already.”

The grant program is authorized for only one year. Hyland said that if there are no significant flood control measures in place in 2008, he will seek to have the flood insurance program renewed.