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Fighting back against FEMA's flood-zone revisions

Homeowners are taking on the Federal Emergency Management Agency and its efforts to redraw the nation's flood-zone maps by 2017.

Portions of Ocean City, NJ still have flooded streets. ( CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer )
Portions of Ocean City, NJ still have flooded streets. ( CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer )Read more

Homeowners are taking on the Federal Emergency Management Agency and its efforts to redraw the nation's flood-zone maps by 2017.

The leader of this fight is Toms River, N.J., homeowner George Kasimos, who discovered that because of FEMA's new map for his town he must pay nearly $7,000 a year for flood insurance, rather than the current $1,000.

Toms River property owners were so upset that they filed an appeal of the FEMA map revisions and won.

But that wasn't enough for Kasimos, a Realtor who runs a national group, Stop FEMA Now, that gained traction after a March 1 report on 60 Minutes about fraud among engineers hired to assess post-Sandy insurance claims.

According to the report, FEMA-contracted engineers were low-balling damages owed to Sandy-stricken homeowners.

Last year, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) held a news conference at Kasimos' home in support of Stop FEMA Now. Menendez plans hearings this year on the fraud allegations.

On Thursday, FEMA officials agreed to reopen each Sandy-related flood-insurance claim. Insurers have denied wrongdoing.

FEMA's new flood maps rely on computer models, not science, said Kasimos, whose group also claims members in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Connecticut, and Louisiana.

"We want Stop FEMA Now to reach 22,000 flood-zone communities and speak out as one group," he said. "There are now 10 million properties and probably 30 million people affected" by the flood-zone revisions.

Pennsylvania member Jeff Smead, who lives in Muncy, Lycoming County, argued that people who live in repeat-flood zones should be charged the higher insurance premiums that result from the map changes.

Smead said he and his wife were "devastated when we found out our insurance now costs $11,000 a year. Our house is only worth $120,000." Homeowners nationally are shouldering the burden and high price for insurance because of "repeat offenders," or homes that are regularly flooded, he said.

Smead said his house - located in the mountains of central Pennsylvania near the West Branch of the Susquehanna River - has never flooded. Yet under the map revisions, residents in repeat-flood zones pay the same as those homeowners who have never experienced a flood.

Property owners in designated flood zones are required to purchase flood insurance. Higher elevations in the map revisions mean that more than 10 million people are required to have the insurance, up from 5 million, according to Stop FEMA Now estimates.

In 2012, federal legislation resulted in a dramatic rise in flood-insurance premiums. Kasimos worked for repeal of parts of that law.

"In 2014, we helped pass the Homeowners Flood Insurance Affordability Act. This bill provided temporary relief and slowed down the exorbitant rise in flood-insurance premiums," he said. But flood maps are still being revised nationwide, with the final set due in 2017.

The home of a Connecticut member of Kasimos' group has never flooded, he said. "How can a home that has never flooded have a yearly $64,000 premium for $250,000 of coverage?"

If a primary residence is in a newly designated FEMA flood zone, flood-insurance costs may rise up to 18 percent a year. For a second home or a commercial property, premiums may rise 25 percent a year.

"Because New Jersey is so densely populated, the new maps mean hundreds of thousands of people may now require flood insurance," Kasimos said.

Risk is based on how high a house is in relation to the base flood elevation. FEMA's new flood maps raise the required BFE by two feet, on average, nationwide. "If my home was built in compliance last year and the new maps raised the required BFE, then my home is now again two feet below the required BFE," he said.

His house falls into that category, Kasimos said, and his flood insurance premium has increased from "just under $1,000 a year" to $6,442.

Smead's home in Muncy, which he has owned since 1990, lies 12 feet below the new BFE.

"Every foot below FEMA charges roughly $1,000 per foot, but we've never been flooded," he said. "Our county planner explained that FEMA is saying arbitrarily, 'Here's what you must pay,' even if we are not in a repetitive flood zone. But they don't care."

To determine where in a local flood zone your house lies, plug in the address at FEMA's website,, or call 1-877-336-2627.