Island County on probation for flood insurance

FEMA’s decision will result in a $50 surcharge on insurance premiums.

The Federal Emergency Manage-ment Agency placed Island County on probation with the National Flood Insurance Program as of Aug. 31.

The action means that a $50 surcharge will be added to the premium of new and renewed flood insurance policies within the community, according to a letter from FEMA.

But if the county doesn’t make significant progress to fix the problems in one year, the county may be suspended from the National Flood Insurance Program, which would have much more serious impacts for those who need flood insurance.

There are 970 parcels in floodplains in the county.

The county has been working on the issues and negotiating with FEMA since a 2013 field inspection of properties in the county’s floodplains resulted in a federal regulator identifying multiple concerns about the county’s regulations and enforcement procedures.

On Wednesday, Island County Assessor Mary Engle, who was also appointed as acting planning director Aug. 10, said she reviewed the former director’s plans for meeting FEMA requirements immediately after taking the job and realized that “it could not be implemented” with current staffing levels.

“I believe we could give them … lip service and write down the things they want to hear,” Engle said, referring to FEMA officials, “but I don’t think that’s going to fix the problem in the planning department.”

Engle asked the Island County commissioners to approve her plan to hire a consultant to help the county adopt practices and procedures that are in compliance with federal rules but are also workable for the county.

The commissioners agreed, though the decision isn’t official yet.

The commissioners discussed the possibility of reimbursing property owners who have to pay the $50 surcharge. They were agreeable with Engle’s suggestion of sending a succinct letter to affected property owners about what the probation status means.

As Engle said at the meeting, the county has had “numerous problems with FEMA,” going back at least seven years.

The county’s most recent run-in with federal officials was in January. FEMA sent a notice to shoreline property owners — without notifying county officials — that said the county isn’t in compliance with the Flood Insurance Protection Act.

That is exactly what happened, yet the commissioners criticized FEMA for sending the letters and stoking fears.

The planning director at the time, who was two directors before Engle, said the problem was with less than a dozen property owners who were not in compliance and had ignored the county’s numerous attempts to contact them.

The commissioners questioned why all owners of properties in flood-prone areas should be punished because a small number of property owners wouldn’t follow the law.

“I want to know what it is that’s special about Island County that makes it so our entire county is being threatened with loss of flood insurance,” Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said at the time.

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