DALLAS, Ore. -- Since KGW first investigated why homeowners left high and dry in the floods of 1996 now needed flood insurance, complaints came pouring in.
Michele and Mike McIntyre have been paying for more than four years for flood insurance they believe they don’t need. “I understand my house could burn down so I need homeowners insurance,” said Michele McIntyre. “But I don’t understand why I have to pay for flood insurance when the entire Willamette valley would have to flood before my house got wet.”
The McIntyre’s pay nearly $800 a year for flood insurance and only $520 a year for homeowners insurance.
“Water will have to travel up hill before our house ever floods,” said Mike McIntyre. He added that when they bought their dream home outside Dallas, Ore., they didn’t need flood insurance. But McIntyre said a few years later they got a letter from their bank stating they were in a flood zone and they would have to buy flood insurance. The McIntyre’s said they did, but then went to work to prove their home was on a hill and there was no way it would flood.
“Two years ago, we hired professional surveyors to take elevations of our property and they literally stood in our backyard and laughed,” said Michele. “They not only couldn’t see where there was any water anywhere nearby but they also couldn’t hear any water. Though they sent the information to our bank the bank did not drop its requirement for flood insurance,” said Mike McIntyre.
Counties in Oregon and Washington are currently in the process of adopting new updated flood plain maps from FEMA and that is why so many homeowners were learning only now that the flood risk status of their properties may be changing. "Under today's standards from the old 80's and 90's style maps you do see flood heights that are higher that's chiefly because I've got better technology to map the flood plain," explained FEMA spokesperson Mark Carey.
While FEMA has admitted some mistakes on its maps, Carey said that mapping of flood plains has still been the most accurate means of identifying where flood risks may occur.
"FEMA maps are more accurate in cities but not in rural areas where properties are large and not every elevation gradient has been surveyed," said Al Hertel with Caswell/Hertel Surveyors, Inc., in Beaverton. "We've been helping homeowners battle their banks and FEMA to prove they may or may not be truly in a flood zone."
KGW asked Caswell/Hertel Surveyors, Inc. if they would come to Dallas and do a certified survey on the McIntyre property to see if it was indeed in a flood zone. They agreed to do it at their own expense and surveyed the land.
"There's no way that water’s ever going to get up to this (McIntyre's) house," said Al Hertel. "The distance from Teal Creek, which is the closest body of water to their property, surveyed out to be 53 feet from the surface of the water to the McIntyre's home."
"I'm so relieved", said Michele McIntyre. "Now we can send this information to FEMA so they'll quit requiring us to have something we don't need at all. Our mortgage broker told us it’s FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) requiring the flood insurance and that the bank is just following the law.
FEMA spokesperson Mark Carey said, “It’s the banks, not FEMA that require homeowners to buy flood insurance. The federal banking laws are what dictate to banks that if a loan is backed by the government on a property that is deemed to be in a flood plain then flood insurance is required.”
But determining if a property actually is or is not in a special flood hazard area is where problems start. Banks and mortgage lenders use what FEMA calls private map reader services. These private companies are hired by financial institutions to read the FEMA flood zone maps. Most banks and mortgage lenders stick with these companies’ determination of the government flood maps and there is no requirement that they have to be right.
So Hertel said he's not going to send the survey to the bank but to FEMA, to ask for what is called a LOMA or a letter of map amendment. If FEMA gives the McIntyre's a LOMA that says they are not in a flood zone and they can then send it to their lender to hopefully remove the requirement for flood insurance.
Hopefully is the operative word because even if a homeowner has definite proof that their property is not in a flood plain, lending institutions can still require borrowers to carry flood insurance.
"It's times where FEMA said ‘no you're not in a flood plain’ and the bank is sticking with their map reading firm they've hired to give them that information and said, ‘you know we're going to make you get the insurance anyway’ and there's nothing I (FEMA) can do about it," said Carey.