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Congress may force all of Manteca to buy flood insurance

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POSTED April 27, 2012 1:21 a.m.

Language inserted in a reauthorization bill making its way through Congress could force every Manteca homeowner and business to buy expensive flood insurance even though their property has never been inundated by water.

The legislation does not delineate what the Federal Emergency Management Agency should charge for what is referred to as residual risk insurance. But if the cost is pegged at $500 - which is significantly lower than insurance in a true flood zone that can run as high as $3,000 a year - it could cost Manteca property owners collectively $17.5 million annually.

“We don’t need to take another hit like that especially in this economy,” said Manteca Councilman Steve DeBrum.

DeBrum - along with fellow council member Debby Moorhead - were part of the San Joaquin County One Voice trip this past week to Washington, D.C. While much of the group lobbied federal leaders for transportation funding, the two zeroes in on trying to convince lawmakers not to allow the residual risk insurance requirement go through.

DeBrum noted that the requirement may end up just applying to homes with federally backed mortgage such as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Veterans Administration, and the Federal Housing Authority. But even so, large numbers of Manteca homes have such federal mortgage backing.

As the proposed law is now written it would impose significant building restrictions throughout Manteca including the elevation of foundations.

Van Scoyoc Associates - the city’s lobbying firm - worked with Congressman Dennis Cardoza to draft and win a floor amendment in the House of Representatives that struck the residual risk provision. The Cardoza bill was backed by Congressmen Jeff Denham and Jerry McNerney.

“It would be devastating for local businesses and Manteca residents,” noted Moorhead.

Congressman Denham’s legislative director Bret Manley agrees with local concerns that the residual risk provision could close businesses currently struggling and prevent new businesses from opening in Manteca.

Since the authorization for the National Flood Insurance Program expires May 31, there is an expectation the current law will be extended for a short period since the residual risk provision is creating a major disagreement. However, there is a fear that after the November election the lame duck Congress could take up the bill and pass it with the residual risk provision intact.

Flood insurance is not now required in Manteca. And even if levees did fail, only the southwest portion of Manteca as far east as Sierra High and north along Airport Way would flood based on historic data and the fall of the land. However, DeBrum pointed out FEMA could include all sections of a city such as Manteca even though only a part has a potential risk in order to generate revenue to pay off future claims.

Current federal law does not require homes and businesses behind federally-certified levees and dams to purchase flood insurance nor are they subject to building restrictions.

Under that definition, Manteca could be considered at risk not just from a levee break but from the possible failure of New Melones Reservoir.

Both Lathrop and Ripon would be impacted by the proposed rule change as would other valley cities such as Stockton and Sacramento.

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