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Flood Insurance, NFIP, and Rate Maps

Flood Insurance

The Village of Winnetka participates in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) which makes federally guaranteed flood insurance available for all eligible buildings, whether they are in a floodplain or not.  In Winnetka, there are two sources of flood plain, the Skokie River and Lake Michigan.  According to the current Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM’s), Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHAs) are areas subject to inundation by the 1% Annual Chance Flood or 100-year flood event.  These areas are tributary to both the Skokie River and Lake Michigan flood plains.  The Base Flood Elevation (BFE) for the Skokie River is 625.3 NAVD 1988 (or 625.5 NGVD 1929).  The mapped BFE for Lake Michigan is 585 NAVD 1988.  The BFE for both water bodies is generally consistent throughout the limits of Winnetka, though the BFE for the Skokie River does vary south of Hill Road. 

As can be seen on the map provided here, the flood plain tributary to the Skokie River generally covers an area which spreads east as it goes south.  The Skokie Ditch, which was initially constructed in the early 20th century in an attempt to drain the Skokie Marsh into Lake Michigan, was abandoned to create the Skokie Lagoons during the 1930’s and early 1940’s.  Presently, the remainder of this ditch system, north of Hill Road, flows to the north into a pump station which then pumps the storm water to the drainage system which drains back to the Skokie River.  This area, as are several other areas in Winnetka, is subject to flooding due to heavy storm events.  The topography in this area of town is relatively flat, and the storm water conveyance system, is comprised of many private storm sewers, which, like the public storm sewers, are frequently unable to handle the load due to intense storm events.

Unfortunately, as many of the residents in town are aware, you do not need to be located in a flood plain to be subject to flooding.  Although the Village of Winnetka has not witnessed a 100-year flood event in recent history, we have experienced several 100-year plus storm events, most recently in April of 2013, July of 2011 and September of 2008.  There have also been several river bank overtopping events, but not up to the 100-year BFE in the recent past.  As a point of reference, if one were standing near the intersection of Hibbard Road and Ash Street, the elevation of a 100-year flood event would be approximately 2.3 feet deep, well above the knee of an adult. 

Probably the most common source of flooding, as noted above, occurs during heavy rainstorm events when the capacity of the storm sewers has been exceeded due to the increase of storm water flow.  This situation can readily worsen if the storm sewer inlet structures or other storm water conveyance systems are covered or blocked with leaves, or other debris, as well as ice.  Once storm water starts ponding on the street surface, the potential for that water to infiltrate into the sanitary sewer system, increases.  As a result, basement back-ups can occur for those homes with a gravity sanitary sewer.

Flood insurance covers direct losses caused by surface flooding, including a river flowing over its banks, a lake or ocean storm, and local drainage problems.  If a flooding problem is caused or aggravated by sewer backup, consult with your insurance agent about obtaining a sewer backup rider to your homeowner’s insurance policy.  According to insurance statistics, for properties located within the flood plain, there is a 26% chance of experiencing a flood during the life of a 30-year mortgage.  As a point of comparison, there is a 4% chance of having a fire during that same time period. 

The NFIP insures buildings with two types of coverage: building and contents.  Building coverage is for the walls, floors, insulation, furnace, and other items permanently attached to the structure.  Contents coverage may be purchased separately, if the contents are in an insurable building.  The maximum amount available for a single-family residence is $250,000, and $100,000 for contents coverage.  Visit www.floodsmart.gov for additional flood insurance details, and to estimate the annual premiums for various flood plain scenarios and coverage.  Call your insurance provider to determine the exact premium rates and coverage available for your home.  If you do not have an agent or your agent does not write flood insurance policies, the NFIP has a toll-free number for agent referrals (1-800-CALL FLOOD (1-800-225-5356) or TDD # 1-800-427-5593).  There is a 30 day waiting period before new flood insurance coverage goes into effect.  Please note that standard property insurance does not cover flood damage.  Premiums for non-SFHA structures can be gotten at a much reduced rate.  Also, Elevation Certificates are now required by the Lender and/or Insurance Provider to better establish the proper flood insurance premium rate for your property.

A flood insurance policy will pay covered losses even if a disaster has not been declared by the President of the United States.  Federal disaster assistance requires a Presidential declaration, which happens in less than 50% of flooding events, nationwide.

NFIP and Flood Insurance Rate Maps

The Village of Winnetka participates in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) which makes federally guaranteed flood insurance available for all eligible buildings, whether they are in a floodplain or not.  Flood insurance covers direct losses caused by surface flooding, including a river flowing over its banks, a lake or ocean storm, and local drainage problems.  If a flooding problem is caused or aggravated by sewer backup, consult with your insurance agent about obtaining a sewer backup rider to your homeowner’s insurance policy.  There is a 26% chance of experiencing a flood during the life of a 30-year mortgage. 

The NFIP insures buildings, including mobile homes, with two types of coverage: building and contents.  Building coverage is for the walls, floors, insulation, furnace, and other items permanently attached to the structure.  Contents coverage may be purchased separately, if the contents are in an insurable building.  There is a 30 day waiting period before flood insurance coverage goes into effect.  Please note that standard property insurance does not cover flood damage.  Premiums for non-SFHA structures can be gotten at a much reduced rate.

Mandatory Purchase Requirement

The Flood Disaster Protection Act of 1973 and the National Flood Insurance Reform Act of 1994 made the purchase of flood insurance mandatory for federally guaranteed mortgages on buildings located in Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA’s).  It also affects all forms of Federal or Federally related financial assistance for buildings located in SFHA’s.  The SFHA is the base (1% Annual Chance or 100-year) flood plain mapped on a Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM). It is shown as one or more zones that begin with the letter “A” or “V”.

The requirement applies to secured mortgage loans from financial institutions, such as commercial lenders, savings and loan associations, savings banks, and credit unions that are regulated, supervised or insured by Federal agencies such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Office of Thrift Supervision.  It also applies to all mortgage loans purchased by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac in the secondary mortgage market.

Federal financial assistance programs affected by the laws include loans and grants from agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, Farmers Home Administration, Federal Housing Administration, Small Business Administration, and the Department of Homeland Security’s FEMA.

How it Works

Lenders are required to complete a Standard Flood Hazard Determination (SFHD) form whenever they make, increase, extend, or renew a mortgage, home equity, home improvement, commercial, or farm credit loan to determine if the building or manufactured (mobile) home is in an SFHA.  It is the Federal agency’s or the lender’s responsibility to check the current Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) to determine if the building is in an SFHA.  Copies of the FIRM are available for review in most local government building or planning departments.  Lenders may also have copies or they may use a flood zone determination company to provide the SFHD form.

If the building is in an SFHA, the Federal agency or lender is required by law to require the recipient to purchase a flood insurance policy on the building.  Federal regulations require building coverage equal to the amount of the loan (excluding appraised value of the land) or the maximum amount of insurance available from the NFIP, whichever is less.  The maximum amount available for a single-family residence is $250,000.  Government-sponsored enterprises, such as Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, have stricter requirements.

The mandatory purchase requirement does not affect loans or financial assistance for items that are not covered by a flood insurance policy, such as vehicles, business expenses, landscaping, and vacant lots.  It does not affect loans for buildings that are not in an SFHA, even though a portion of the lot may be.  While not mandated by law, a lender may require a flood insurance policy, as a condition of a loan, for a property in any zone on a FIRM.

If a person feels that an SFHD form incorrectly places the property in the SFHA, he or she may request a Letter of Determination Review from FEMA.  This must be submitted within 45 days of determination.  More information can be found here.

Flood Insurance Rate Maps

In 1980, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) published Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM’s) designating areas that are subject to flooding for both the 100-year and 500-year flood events.  Subsequent to that, FEMA delegated the responsibility of enforcing flood protection ordinances and permitting within the flood plain to various jurisdictional bodies throughout the nation.  Winnetka is a delegated community.  As a delegated community, the Village of Winnetka must enforce its Flood Hazard Protection Ordinance in order to remain in good standing with the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).   
On November 6, 2000, FEMA revised the Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) for Winnetka.  The revised maps reflected the results of an increase in rainfall intensity and development within the study area which increased the base flood elevation (BFE) for Winnetka approximately 9”.  As a result of this increase, the limits of the flood plain broadened, placing many more Winnetka homes in the floodplain.  Unfortunately, this mapping did not accurately reflect the revised BFE elevation for that area north of Willow Road.   

On August 19, 2008, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) implemented a nationwide map modernization program, which resulted in the issuance of revised Flood Insurance Rate Maps.  As part of FEMA’s map modernization program, the maps for Winnetka now more accurately reflect the base flood elevation (BFE) boundary that had been determined as part of the November 6, 2000, map revision, most keenly observed north of Willow Road.  In addition to this change, FEMA is referencing a different vertical datum than that which had previously been used on prior FIRMs.  The new reference datum is the North American Vertical Datum (NAVD 1988).  The previously used datum was the National Geodetic Vertical Datum (NGVD 1929).  In Winnetka, the conversion from NGVD 1929 to NAVD 1988 is approximately -0.2 feet.  In other words, the old BFE was 625.5 NGVD 1929, and converting to the new datum, the BFE is 625.3 NAVD 1988.  It is important to realize that even though the BFE did not change relative to the existing ground elevation, the numbers referencing the elevations are now different.  All Village of Winnetka benchmarks have been converted to the NAVD 1988 reference.

Copies of a FIRM as well as many other sources of important flood information can be obtained online through FEMA.

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