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Banks are increasingly requesting river front property owners get flood insurance

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An increased reliance on large lenders rather than local banks has stripped local officials of much of their ability to determine whether a waterfront property owner along the St. Lawrence River needs to obtain flood insurance.

Timothy C. Tuttle, town of Oswegatchie code enforcement officer, said the policy in the past was, “as long as the project was visibly three feet above the water, [flood insurance] wasn’t an issue. Now all of a sudden it is.”

Larger banks offering waterfront property mortgages cannot physically send someone to look at the land, meaning more home buyers seeking loans from these banks are being forced to follow a longstanding rule requiring flood insurance if they are located in a floodplain.

Mr. Tuttle said that now, “if your property touches water, you got to get flood insurance.”

Richard D. Jacobs of Jacobs Land Surveying in Ogdensburg said he thinks “a lack of understanding” is behind the increasing numbers of people who have had to get flood insurance.

“In the last two months I’ve done eight or nine flood certificates [along the St. Lawrence River],” Mr. Jacobs said. “Up until a couple years ago I had never done one on the river. It’s been a significant increase.”

“The finance companies haven’t looked at the St. Lawrence River as a major flood area before now,” said Mr. Tuttle, who added that the river only fluctuates by several feet every year.

Mr. Jacobs said he recently surveyed a property where a woman was required to get flood insurance for a home that was 20 feet above the river’s high water mark.

“If the St. Lawrence River raises 20 feet, the whole city of Ogdensburg would be under water,” he said. “The chances of the St. Lawrence River flooding to the level that it floods the houses we are getting flood certificates for is pretty crazy. If you’re going to raise the water 12 to 15 feet Noah better get his arc ready because that’s a lot of rain.”

Gloria Prince, a flood insurance specialist at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said new lending processes have meant that old laws are getting enforced with less room for deviation.

“There has not been any change in requirements,” said Ms. Prince.

People who get federally backed home financing have always been required to get flood insurance if their property is in a floodplain, said Ms. Prince.

Mr. Jacobs said in the past homeowners were typically dealing with local banks which could send someone to see the property for themselves or deal with trusted local officials who knew the area and could deem the insurance requirement unnecessary.

Ms. Prince said there are cases where a piece of property may be in the floodplain but may actually be high up enough that it would not flood.

“In the past [property owners] may have contacted the local official,” said Ms. Prince, adding that it was then up to local banks to decide if they would require the insurance.

“In today’s lending tree, this lender picks up the mortgage application in, say, California, and the first thing they see is, ‘oh this property touches water? They need flood insurance,’” Mr. Jacobs said.

Mr. Jacobs said the fact that more homebuyers are turning to banks from different parts of the state or country has made it more difficult for property owners who may previously not have worried about flood insurance.

“Technically [banks] are supposed to require a Letter of Map Amendment,” said Ms. Prince. “It would officially remove it from the floodplain.”

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