MAT-SU — Saying they wanted to wait for better maps, both of Alaska’s U.S. Senators this week praised passage of legislation they co-sponsored delaying dramatic hikes to flood insurance rates.

“I’ve heard loud and clear from the Interior, Homer, Juneau and the Mat-Su that basing such expensive rate increases on inaccurate FEMA flood zone maps is simply inconceivable,” Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in a press release issued Thursday.

“My office has fielded calls from concerned Alaskan homeowners and business owners from Juneau to Palmer to Talkeetna. Besides pricing people out of their homes, these increases will suffocate real estate markets and hurt local economies across Alaska,” Democratic Sen. Mark Begich said in his press release.

Mat-Su Borough Mayor Larry DeVilbiss was also pleased with the change. He said the legislation was something he and a delegation of borough officials specifically talked about with Murkowski on a trip to Washington, D.C.

“She was following a request we made when we went back to D.C. last month because we really were starting to get complaints from people who saw their flood insurance go up from $400 to $10,000 a year,” the mayor said.

That trip also included a trip to visit Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., one of the architects of the legislation and to the Federal Emergency Management Administration, where the changes to the flood plain maps originated.

“We need to start with building a flood program, (a) partnership with the private sector, that works for average, middle-class families. We do not have that, and we are going to get the first step toward that today,” Landrieu said on the floor of the Senate Thursday.

The updated maps have been an issue for many years. A borough press release from 2010 urges residents to attend meetings discussing the new maps.

Essentially, they reclassified numerous homes near water bodies, either drawing homes into the flood plain that hadn’t been there before or reclassifying ones that had been deemed at-risk as more at-risk.

The alternative to the increased premiums was a process to demonstrate that a home didn’t belong in the flood plains. The process, DeVilbiss said — Murkowski backed him up in a 2012 committee hearing she posted with her press release — was onerous and expensive.

“In order for a property owner to get out of that classification they would have to pay for a surveyor to do an as-built and elevations, and then apply for a waiver,” DeVIlbiss said.

And, the mayor pointed out, it doesn’t make much sense for the federal government to be proceeding with those maps. The borough has better maps. DeVilbiss said that in 2011 when the borough did digital mapping using LIDAR — a remote sensing technology that uses lasers to, among other things, create highly detailed maps.

“With our LIDAR imagery over at the borough, it’s a straightforward matter, we have the date it just needs to be put into shape,” DeVilbiss said.

He said that the borough has already done a test-run incorporating its data into the federal maps.

“We did a model piece over in the Butte and I think something like 170 people were moved out of the floodplain after the (U.S. Army) Corps of Engineers took our data and re-drew the lines,” he said.

Even that, though, he doubted had yet been made a permanent piece of the federal maps.

The legislation that Murkowski, Begich and 65 other senators voted to approve Thursday delays implementation of those federal maps.

“Premium increases would be delayed until FEMA can complete a required study to assess the affordability of flood insurance and send a proposal to Congress. For many homeowners this means rate hikes wouldn’t occur for up to three years,” Begich’s office wrote in a press release.

Contact Andrew Wellner at 352-2270 or andrew.wellner@frontiersman.com.

Load comments