Customers worry about insurance ‘probation surcharge’

Some homeowners on Whidbey Island received a troubling notice recently, notifying them they might need to pay extra fees on their flood insurance because of the county’s non-compliance with certain regulations.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency notified flood insurance customers that Island County was not in compliance with a 1968 law and thus its residents would need to pay a $50 “probation surcharge” on their premiums if the issue wasn’t resolved by the end of March.

County Planning Director Hiller West said he was surprised to learn about this notice because he said his department had been working with FEMA agents since 2013 to come into compliance with this law.

“Our expectation is to that this will all be resolved by mid-March,” West said.

In 2013, the agency provided the county with a list of 130 properties that were out of compliance with the National Flood Insurance Program requirements or lacked needed information on record. Since then, all but 11 properties have been resolved, West said.

The remaining pieces of land have not responded to multiple requests to take action, and the department has begun code-enforcement action, West said.

Many of these properties lack elevation information, he said, which means a surveyor needs permission to access the parcels and prepare an elevation certificate.

He said work on this process lagged around 2014 and 2015 because of a lack of staffing at the planning department and at FEMA. It started back up again around 2016.

“We were surprised to see letters go out to property owners as soon as they did,” West said. “There has been ongoing communication and resolutions with FEMA for the last couple of years.”

There’s a meeting scheduled with the agency later this month. West isn’t sure what will happen if the remaining property owners refuse to cooperate, but he’s fairly confident customers won’t be negatively affected.

“In my opinion, it’s likely that the issue will be resolved,” West said. “That’s my opinion. I can’t predict the future.”

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