New FIRM Waives Flood Insurance. But Is It Safe?

by Kevin Curry

Free at last! But safe and dry? Homeowners saddled with mandatory flood insurance required by their lenders may now be able to drop the additional policy and save a bundle. At the prodding of some more vocal WDNA members, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has at last completed new FIRMs [Flood Insurance Rate Maps] for our district. The FIRM is the official study used by the insurance industry to rate each geographic area’s flood risk. But the new maps don’t satisfy those challenging whether our area is completely risk-free.

Keokea Gulch Aerial Map

Previous Aerial Map Shows Most Residences in AO-1 Flood Zone

New FIRMs confirm what we have known for some time. Flood waters were diverted westward from the Welakahao Gulch to the Keokea Gulch many years ago. In simple terms:  the bulk of floodwaters moved from Mehani Circle over to the ball field and recycling center. [Compare the “Current” flood map to the “Future Flood Map” to see the movement from the Waimahaihai Gulch over to the Keokea Gulch.]  However, because the FIRMs were never updated, homeowners continued to pay thousands of dollars in what some might call needless flood insurance premiums.

If you are a property owner in central Kihei, you probably got a notification from the County of Maui containing the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) revised flood insurance rate maps.  FEMA, along with the DLNR, and representatives from Maui County will be at the meeting on:

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

Kihei Community Center

303 Lipoa Street, Kihei, HI 96753

[Click here for details: WDNA FEMA Meeting]

With the exception of a few properties bordering S. Kihei Road, virtually all of the residences in the WDNA are now out of the flood risk zone according to them. What does this mean to property values in the district? Resale values will definitely increase. Because annual flood premiums have become a key component of mortgage escrow fees, buyers will choose a lower monthly “nut” over a similar residence with mandated flood insurance. According to the National Flood Insurance Program, “The average flood insurance policy costs about $650 per year. … Beginning October 1, 2013, these rates will increase 20 percent each year over the next 5 years.”

If you are affected by the change and currently have flood insurance, chances are the FIRM will eventually be sent to your mortgage company, but I wouldn’t count on them automatically dropping your insurance for you. The new FIRM Panel 588 which affects the Waimahaihai District became effective 9/16/2012. [Really? This may be a typo on their part. I’m just repeating the date on my document].  It remains to be seen if insurance companies will reimburse their insured from the effective date of the new FIRM, or the date they are notified of the change. Just to be sure, if you choose to end flood insurance, sending a copy of the current firm, along with a dated request to have the insurance requirement dropped immediately is advisable. For a complete copy of the latest maps and details of the study generating the new FIRMs click here:

150003V002D Flood Insurance Studay (FIS)

150003V001D Flood Insurance Study (FIS)

For a Digital Copy of the FIRM panel 588 click here:

1500030588G USGS Map for Waimahaihai

Flood insurance is always a good idea. Keep in mind, that those same vocal individuals are still actively challenging the efficacy of the existing levy that  diverts water near the sewage treatment plant mauka of the Waimahaihai District. According to their claims, the existing flood bypass was inadequately constructed. The levy was not designed with adequate depth and width in order to divert the volume of water would come during a flood of “Biblical proportions”.

Upon examination of existing data, I attended a meeting where an independent local civil engineer could not stand beside the levy’s infrastructure to ensure the safe diversion of such a weather event. The bottom line: We all may decide to end our flood insurance today based upon the new FIRMs, only to suffer a 500 year flood tomorrow and suffer a total loss. Requests for further study of the existing levy’s capacity should be honored. All necessary improvements should be made to it before this residential area should deemed both safe and dry.

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