A flood of opposition to insurance and map changes

Anyone who lives near the ocean in New England knows it comes with a cost, but one of the prices that homeowners pay for the privilege is high insurance premiums Now, a perfect storm of newly drawn maps and the way the federal flood insurance works will hike costs not only for those who have been paying the high premiums for years but for thousands of homeowners who weren’t previously in flood zone regions.

When a homeowner lives in a designated flood zone, standard homeowners insurance is not available, forcing the owner to enter into the National Flood insurance Program. The premiums have always been somewhat high but if you have to have property damage insurance – and everyone does if they have a mortgage – it was the cost of living near the water. But the saving grace for some is that rates were grandfathered for some of the oldest residents while others qualified for subsidies, meaning the premiums at least were predictable and steady.

But last year, Congress, reflecting the growing animosity of taxpayers to subsidizing the cost of rebuilding homes for people who choose to live in high-risk regions, passed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act. The law looked to shore up the flood insurance fund, which was $18 billion in the red after Hurricane Katrina and now has a deficit of nearly $24 billion after Hurricane Sandy. The law will bring insurance premiums up to market rate and eliminate the grandfathered clauses for current policyholders.

On the tail of that action, the Federal Emergency Management Administration drew up new flood zone maps that engineers reconfigured to include storm surge and increased elevations for those with a 1 percent or higher risk of flooding. Those new maps, which go into effect on October 16 following a 90-day public comment period, are causing some people whose basements have only seen water when the washing machine leaks to buy into the program at mind-numbing rates.

Longtime Hingham resident Otto Harling tells the Boston Globe he received a note from the bank telling him his home, which sits near the protected Hingham Harbor, is now in the FEMA flood zone, forcing him to buy flood insurance. The cost? $50,000 a year. Some residents down the coast in Marshfield and Scituate will see their premiums rise two to three times the current rate — some as high as 10 times. But Massachusetts is not alone. In Louisiana, one woman tells Bloomberg Businessweek that her premium is going from $388 a year to $18,000 annually.

The flood insurance program covers more than 5.6 million homes nationwide and they are not just coastal. Those who live near rivers in Vermont or the Midwest or around the Great Lakes will also be affected by the new maps and the change in the flood insurance program.

Adopting the maps is voluntary. Community officials can accept or reject the maps, but voting them down means no homeowner in the area can buy flood insurance through the national program. So it’s voluntary with a wink.

Marshfield and Scituate officials have hired experts to appeal the new maps. US Rep. Stephen Lynch says he will explore seeking an injunction against the new rates and the new maps, but a FEMA official told Congress it could be up to two years before they are able to determine the effect of the premium increases.

Perhaps the answer lies in areas outside the program but inside the flood zones. Nicholas Pinter, a professor of geology and an expert in flood zone management at Southern Illinois University, offers, in an oped column in the New York Times, that the solution may be in investment. Pinter says the government can buy out high-risk homeowners as well as invest in elevating at-risk home and creating some barriers against storm surge. He points out that studies show for every dollar spent on mitigation, the government realizes a savings of $4 to $5.

“If harsh medicine is in order — and the programs’ $25 billion debt says it is,” he writes, “then the cure should be effective and permanent, but not kill the patient in the process.”

                                                                                                                                                   –JACK SULLIVAN

BEACON HILL

Gov. Deval Patrick signs a bill into law that ends the practice of charging 17-year-olds as adults, the Telegram & Gazette reports.

With the opening in Massachusetts of a location that sells Tesla, the high-end electric car built in California, state Sen. Marc Pacheco has filed a bill to strengthen a state law that bans car manufacturers from selling directly to consumers.

The Globe reports that the state got hosed in a contract to devise a computer system for handling unemployment claims, overpaying millions of dollars for a system riddled with problems.

CASINOS

The Globe scrubs Suffolk Downs’ estimate of $1 billion in gambling revenue from an East Boston casino and finds a lot to be skeptical about. To reach that mark, Mark Arsenault reports, the casino would have to have generate more gambling revenue than any gambling facility in the Western Hemisphere. In a CommonWealth cover story in 2008, Phil Primack dug into various revenue and jobs estimates put forward when Gov. Deval Patrick first embraced casinos, and found plenty to question. The Herald finds significant opposition to a casino among likely Boston voters, raising the stakes in Friday’s city council referendum showdown.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

With all of the hometown valedictory stories and awards events that will be coming, veteran journalist Paul Starobin has a lengthy look at Mayor Tom Menino’s 20-year tenure in the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Glowing hagiography it is not.

Joan Vennochi says there’s lots to look forward to in having a new mayor overseeing development in Boston.

Salem officials take a novel approach with an abandoned home owned by the city. Instead of auctioning off the boarded-up property to the highest bidder, the officials transfer the ranch house to a trust that will convert it into an affordable, single-family home, the Salem News reports.

Somerset selectmen are looking into making the town treasurer an appointed position after a warning from the state that the tax rate, surplus funds, and bond rating were in jeopardy because of failures by the treasurer’s office to properly reconcile the books on a monthly basis.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

A top House official releases an outline of how he thinks online sales tax legislation should proceed, Governing reports.

John McCain responds to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the website of Pravda, the Daily Beast reports.

In his maiden speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Edward Markey laid out his priorities, including protecting children’s privacy online and measures to improve the nation’s energy efficiency.

Karl Rove argues against the GOP’s hard budgetary line, warning it could turn off independents.

Immigration rates are trending upward, driven largely by Asian newcomers, not Hispanics.

ELECTIONS

A WBUR/MassINC poll indicates a top tier is emerging in the Boston mayoral race, with John Connolly and Marty Walsh in the lead and Charlotte Golar Richie, Dan Conley, and Felix Arroyo close behind, WBUR reports. Margery Eagan calls the Boston Teachers Union endorsement recently bestowed upon Arroyo and Rob Consalvo “the kiss of death.” David Bernstein pushes back a bit on the narrative surrounding Walsh and his union supporters.

Voters are being polled about their election choices by callers claiming to represent the Boston Elections Department.

James Aloisi continues his CommonWealth series on past mayoral campaigns with an installment on the epic battle between John (Honey Fitz) Fitzgerald and James Storrow.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker campaigns in Lowell, praising the collaboration between the state and city, the Sun reports. He also sits down on Greater Boston to offer his views on reforming education, which he says will be a priority in a Baker administration.

You knew this was coming: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley presses the flesh outside Fenway Park. She also makes stops in Gloucester and Lawrence.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Financial markets hit news highs as the Fed, in a surprise, says it will continue the stimulus, NPR reports (via WBUR).

US Foods, a food distribution company, is moving from Peabody to Seabrook, New Hampshire, and taking 300 jobs with it, the Salem News reports.

EDUCATION

A record number of students pass the MCAS tests, but 40 percent of high school graduates who enroll in state colleges and universities still require remedial work, the Associated Press reports (via Telegram & Gazette). Two elementary schools in Lynn shed the “failing” rating the state had given them, the Item reports. In Worcester, one school gets off the underperforming list and another doesn’t, the T&G reports.  Four schools face possible state takeover because of chronically poor performance.

HEALTH CARE

The number of Americans without health insurance drops slightly, Governing reports. Under Obamacare, more than half of Americans will have access to health plans costing less than $100 a month, Politico reports.

HUMANITY

Feel-good story extraordinaire: The Globe reports that nearly $100,000 has been raised so far for Glen James, the homeless Boston man who found a backpack containing $42,000 in cash and travelers checks and turned it in to authorities. WBUR and NECN also report on the story.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A federal judge has given approval to a $366 million settlement okayed by the EPA to clean up New Bedford Harbor despite objections by an environmental group and some elected officials that the money is insufficient.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

A man who was arrested Sunday after being released from prison earlier because of the Annie Dookhan scandal tells officials he loves the former state drug lab chemist, WBUR reports.

The mother of a Brockton murder victim has been barred from the remainder of the trial of the man accused of gunning down her son because she and her other son caused a courtroom disturbance during first days of the trial.

MEDIA

Dalia Diaz, the editor of Lawrence’s leading bilingual newspaper, may face an assault charge for slapping James O’Donoghue, one of the candidates for mayor, after O’Donoghue accused her of shilling for incumbent William Lantigua, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

The video game Grand Theft Auto racks up $800 million in sales on its first day on the market, Time reports.

Reuters scraps its ambitious plan for a direct-to-reader service, the New York Times reports.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

When it comes to smartphones, Keller@Large is mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore — and his listeners agree.

Dan Kennedy puts the spotlight on an interview with Washington Post — and former Globe — editor Marty Baron in which he says the rise of specialized sites for news consumers is what’s vexing legacy media from gaining ground on the Internet.