EDITORIAL: It could become a ghost town

That’s what Peter Mahon, president of the West 12th Road Block Association, said the implementation of the Biggert-Waters Act of 2012 could do to Broad Channel.

Now that the Federal Emergency Management Agency released another round of preliminary flood insurance maps on Monday, it is becoming increasingly clear just what kind of future could be in store for coastal communities in Queens and in places across the city – and country – with the implementation of the new proposed maps and the impact of the Biggert-Waters Act. And it’s one where the term ‘ghost town’ could very well apply time and again.

The act, which a number of policy makers have admitted they did not read before voting on it and did not understand what kind of financial ruin it could spell for residents – especially those who have accumulated mass amounts of debt from Hurricane Sandy, ends subsidized insurance rates for property owners who are remapped into more dangerous flood zones. This means spikes in their insurance premiums of about 20 percent until they hit market rate – a rate that is determined by the FEMA maps. An analysis of the effects of Biggert-Waters by the Extension Disaster Education Network found that an owner of a property built in a flood zone at four feet below the expected flood level currently pay a $1,410 annual premium – which would skyrocket to $9,500 within five years.

So what does this mean for South Queens? While FEMA downgraded some parts of the borough so they are no longer in the most dangerous flood zones – Broad Channel, for example, is no longer in Zone V, the most flood-prone and expensive zone – it has incorporated numerous neighborhoods, such as Howard Beach, into flood zones. People are bracing for the time when they will have to dig deep into pockets that, for many, are already empty.

Legislators have been scrambling to address the impact of Biggert-Waters, attempting to at least slow the impact of the act, but it seems pretty clear that immediate action is needed if residents are going to be able to afford to stay in their homes. Already, people in neighborhood’s like Mahon’s in Broad Channel are debating whether they should stay or go.

And that is a tragedy. People should not be forced to leave the homes they have lived in for decades, that their families have owned for generations, just because their government has failed them. Residents should not have to pack up and leave, praying that their home will not fall victim to a block full of foreclosures.

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives approved an amendment that stops FEMA from using its budget to implement Biggert-Waters. We applaud the House for passing this, but now it’s time for the Senate to act.

And the city needs to act to better mitigate potential flooding. The mayor on Tuesday outlined a laundry list of items he hopes will make the city better prepared for flooding, including installing a wetlands restoration project to weaken waves along Howard and Hamilton Beaches, and elsewhere in Jamaica Bay, as well install bulkheads in places like Rockaway, Howard Beach and Broad Channel. These need to be done immediately.

There’s a reason people rebuild houses that were destroyed by Sandy. There’s a reason they dip into retirement funds, into college savings, to make their houses inhabitable again.

That reason is these are not just houses. These are homes. These are places where you got married, where you watched your children grown up. These are places with history – and it’s your history. And that is something that should not be taken from you.



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