POINCIANA – For the past 24 years, April Massen has lived in Poinciana, and in all those years, her home has only flooded once.
That was when the pipes in her home burst – a defect in her property, and not an act of Mother Nature.
What has never happened, she said, is that heavy rains have caused flooding, even in the summer of 2004, when no fewer than three hurricanes came through the area.
“We did have a flood, when our pipes burst,” she said. “In terms of water backing up from the hurricanes, we’ve had none of that. We never had to file a claim with our flood insurance.”
That’s why Massen was so surprised when she recently got a notice from Polk County, informing her that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was now classifying her neighborhood as being in a flood zone. All of a sudden, after more than two decades, Massen said she now has to contend with the possibility that her insurance will not only get more expensive, but possibly soar through the roof – even though she still lives in the same house on the Polk County side of Poinciana that, until now, has never been considered to be at risk of serious flooding.
“Nothing else has changed in the 24 years I’ve been here,” she said. “It never flooded here – never, and I have a wood frame house.”
This issue isn’t new to Poinciana. The Osceola County side has been struggling with this concern for nearly a year.
“Osceola County started talking about this in August of last year,” said Annette Brown-Best, a resident of the Osceola County side of Poinciana, whose home has also been listed as being in a flood zone by FEMA, even though it wasn’t when she first bought it.
The U.S. government contacted Osceola County last August to inform officials that some of its communities were in a flood zone, even though there’s never been a single instance of a home that got flooded in the community of 10 Poinciana villages that cuts across Polk and Osceola counties.
FEMA now uses topographical surveys, which employ advanced satellite screenings, to make these determinations. Those screenings have indicated that some parts of Poinciana now face that risk.
FEMA had given residents of the Osceola County side of Poinciana until May 17 to respond to the new government survey. If the residents can’t prove their homes are outside the flood zone by having their own surveys done – at their own expense — the government will automatically classify certain neighborhoods as falling into this category.
The FEMA designation of being in a High Risk Flood Zone means banks and mortgage lenders would now require the homeowners to get flood insurance, which can run as high as $2,000 a year, depending on how risky the flood zone is considered to be by the government. Anyone within 100 feet of a flood zone could be required by their mortgage holder to purchase flood insurance.
Even though Osceola has been wrestling with this issue for more than a year now, Brown-Best said a lot of her neighbors simply don’t believe this is happening.
“There’s a lot of people who still just believe that because when they bought their homes they were not in a flood zone, that they will never be in one,” Brown-Best said. “People have to be notified about what’s going on.”
Randall Vogel, the flood plain manager for Polk County’s Office of Planning and Development, Land Development Division, said FEMA didn’t suddenly discover that people were in a flood zone. Advanced equipment made the case for them, he added.
“FEMA has only been modeling flood plains officially since the early 1980s,” Vogel said. “The topographic field has changed drastically in the last 20 years. They’re not so much placing what they would consider new homes in a flood plane as correcting errors that kept properties from being included earlier. Because of better data, they’re just correcting what they would consider map errors.”
Polk County’s new flood plain maps will go into effect on Sept. 28, Vogel said.
“In that entire eastern part of the county, we sent postcards to all negatively affected residents, to let them know they would be affected,” he said. “We also, prior to doing that, worked with the water management district and FEMA to assure that as much as possible the maps were as accurate as possible.”
Massen said for decades, her insurance listed her property as being in an ‘X’ zone – meaning safe from flooding. Now, she said, Polk County government has informed her that the property will now be listed in an ‘A’ zone – the second highest risk area. She would now be required to purchase flood insurance.
“It’s always been up to me if I wanted to purchase it,” she said. “We were always ‘X,’ which means it’s not mandatory.”
As it turns out, Massen already does have flood coverage. A year ago, she signed a new policy and found the company’s rates were so low that she decided to get the insurance anyway.
“I got better rates than ever, so I said I might as well take out flood insurance,” she said.
But she never expected that a year later, she would suddenly be in an A zone. What’s worse, she said, is that the A category means her insurance could soar from $300 a year to more than $1,400 annually – on a house that has never flooded.
“We’re all going to be forced to hire surveyors for this,” she said. “It’s like everybody is cooked. I think a lot of people will go into foreclosure because of this.”
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