Panel OKs vote on flood insurance extension

Great Falls Tribune

The Senate Banking Committee voted Thursday to send a five-year extension of the National Flood Insurance Program to the full Senate for a vote.

"This year's unprecedented flooding taught us that all Montanans must be prepared when tragedy strikes," said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., a member of the Banking Committee, said in a news release. "By reauthorizing the National Flood Insurance Program for five years, the Banking Committee provided greater certainty and will help put the Flood Insurance Program on a more sound financial footing so that insurance continues to be available for those at risk of flood. I'll keep working to make this program better, and responsive to Montanans' needs."

Nearly 20,000 communities across the United States voluntarily participate in Federal Emergency Management Agency's National Flood Insurance Program to reduce future flood damage. In exchange, FEMA backs flood insurance that is made available to homeowners, renters and business owners.

Tester included in the legislation a requirement for FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to convene a task force that will find ways for the two agencies to work together to improve the process used to certify levees. The issue flared up in Cascade County earlier this year in two Sun River flood districts.

In 2008, the Army Corps of Engineers changed its longstanding policy and excluded federally constructed, but nonfederally operated, levees from accreditation by the agency. Since then, FEMA began updating flood insurance rate maps that require levee certifications, which are assessments that affect property values, insurance premiums and requirements for purchasing flood insurance.

If the Army Corps stopped paying for levee certifications for levees such as the West Great Falls Flood Control Levee, it could force small communities to either pay for expensive private certification or for homeowners to pay high flood-insurance premiums.

"There is no reason that the two government agencies can't work together to help out the local communities that depend on these levees," Tester said. "This requirement brings some Montana commonsense to FEMA and the Army Corps that I am pleased to have gotten into this bill."