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June 25, 2012, 9:43 p.m. ET

Senate Bill Would Drive Up Flood-Insurance Premiums

Vacation homes and commercial properties in flood-prone areas could see their flood-insurance premiums more than double over a four-year period under a bill poised to clear the Senate this week.

The measure, which was endorsed by the Obama administration Monday, is meant to shore up the finances of a federal program that provides mandatory flood insurance. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill would save $4.7 billion by 2021.

The government-run National Flood Insurance Program has borrowed nearly $18 billion from the Treasury Department to pay claims resulting from the hurricane season in 2005—a particularly bad year for flood losses. The Senate is expected to take up the legislation Tuesday or Wednesday.

The government pays flood-insurance claims, while private insurers sell policies and manage claims under the program, created in 1968. Flood insurance is required for federally regulated lenders and government-backed mortgages in flood-prone areas. Insurance industry groups say the program's rates are far too low, making it hard for private competition to emerge.

More than 20% of the 5.6 million homeowners in the program receive subsidized rates. The subsidies are directed at homes built before 1975, and homes that were built before the nation's flood-mapping system was established to designate high-risk areas.

The bill would gradually remove those subsidies for second homes as well as for commercial properties and properties with a history of repeated flood damage. But some property owners, including many living in residences built decades ago, would continue to receive support.

The increases would more than double premiums for about 440,000 policyholders who pay $1,174 a year on average, the CBO estimates. J. Fletcher Willey, who runs an insurance agency in North Carolina's Outer Banks, said local property owners with repeated flood losses would be hit with higher costs. But he said he agreed with the move by Congress.

"This is something that should have been done earlier," Mr. Willey said. "It stands to reason when a property has been damaged over and over again the property owner should pay more."

Senators still need to work out differences with a version passed by the House. The measure is backed by a broad coalition, including the insurance industry, real-estate agents, fiscal conservatives and environmentalists. There are still some concerns that the overhaul doesn't do enough to decrease the program's burden for taxpayers. Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) said consumers who have repeated flood-insurance claims should be kicked out of the federal insurance program.

While lawmakers of both parties support the bill, there has been disagreement in Congress over whether to establish a flood-insurance requirement for homeowners who live by levees, dams or other kinds of flood protection.

Sen. Mark Pryor (D., Ark.,) argues that requiring homeowners in so-called residual risk areas to pay for insurance is unfair, given that they are protected from floods. But other lawmakers last week reached a compromise that sets out a method for charging those customers based on the flood risk they face.

Gerrie Schipske, a member of the Long Beach, Calif., city council who opposes that plan, sent an email to her constituents over the weekend aimed at rallying opposition. Ms. Schipske says the Long Beach and San Gabriel rivers, which flow through concrete channels in her city, stand little risk of flooding. If the Senate bill isn't changed, she said, "a great portion of the homeowners will have to pay this flood insurance.…It's an unnecessary burden."

Since 2008, Congress has passed a number of short-term bills but hasn't been able to complete a five-year extension of the flood-insurance program. The program has been allowed to lapse numerous times, delaying real estate deals. The impact of the bill is likely to be most felt in Florida, where vacation-home owners will be hit with higher premiums. Florida has more than 2 million flood-insurance policies.

But Maureen Harrell, owner of Harrell Real Estate in Melbourne, Fla., said having the program extended five more years outweighs concerns about higher rates for some property. Real estate agents, she said, have "all been affected at one point in time or another," by lapses in the program.

Write to Alan Zibel at and Leslie Scism at



New York Times Editorial Page

May 16, 2012


Ticks to the Slaughter

The mild winter is promising to bring a bad summer for disease-causing parasites like the deer tick, which causes Lyme disease, a danger throughout the Northeast. A three-year experiment in tick control in two areas of Long Island — Shelter Island and western portions of Fire Island — has shown encouraging results.

Researchers from Cornell University installed and monitored dozens of “four-poster” feeding stations, which lure deer to a bin baited with corn and rigged with rollers soaked with a tick-killing pesticide, permethrin. When a deer rubs against the rollers, ticks die by the thousands. One station can treat all the deer in about 100 acres.

New York had banned four-poster devices because feeding wild deer makes them congregate, which increases the risk of spreading chronic wasting disease. The Department of Environmental Conservation approved the experiment for these confined areas, where Lyme infections were severe and chronic wasting disease unknown.

The experiment was a departure for the cautious conservation department, and it faced resistance from hunters who didn’t like the idea of permethrin in their venison. But, under pressure from Shelter Island residents, the project was approved. Hunters were assured that the pesticide, commonly used in shampoos for head lice, showed up only on the skin and hair of affected deer, not in muscle.

The results were excellent: Tick populations were reduced by more than 90 percent, according to the study’s report issued last year. Scientists are cautious about predicting a comparable drop in Lyme disease because so many factors are involved in its spread. But the experiment, which ended last year, seems well worth continuing and expanding to other parts of Long Island.