Out of Hear: Staying afloat | Opinion – Sonoma West

One reason I live in fear of a future with Donald Trump as president is that I don’t think he knows what it means to live in a floodplain.

Frank Robertson column photo

Frank Robertson

I know he’s got a beach house in Florida, but it’s just a vacation place where he goes to play golf. The sun always seems to be out when he’s there, and the power stays on and he doesn’t need to throw paper towels at a crowd of hurricane victims.

He may not realize that when the U.S. government’s shutdown began last month it threatened to leave hundreds of lower Russian River property owners without flood insurance if they were customers of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials halted renewals of NFIP policies after the shutdown began and said new policies would not be issued.

The NFIP coverage lapse would have affected several thousand Sonoma County flood policyholders, mostly owners of property within the Russian River’s 100-year floodplain.

For the county’s approximately 9,000 Russian River floodplain residents, the no-renewal news came with the approach of January and February, historically the two most flood-prone months on the river.

I am a Guerneville resident of the river floodplain, and the federal shutdown coincidentally arrived with my annual $600 FEMA bill to renew my National Flood Insurance Program policy that expires next week.

I have NFIP coverage because I don’t have much choice: buying flood insurance is a mandatory condition of a federally backed mortgage, and the only affordable policies are through the National Flood Insurance Program.

My reaction to getting a bill for a policy that wouldn’t be renewed even if I paid the premium was a mixture of frustration, anger and disbelief. Was I reading this right? Even if my wife and I paid our premium, as we have for many years, the next flood could wash us out of our house with no insurance — all because Trump wants to build his delusional border wall, paid for with the help of my flood insurance premium.

Talk about a Catch 22. That’s the title of the famous Joseph Heller novel about bureaucratic absurdities.

The FEMA flood insurance SNAFU also sounded alarms among national mortgage industry officials who said the no-new-policies decision betrayed prior government shutdown agreements when congress made sure the NFIP would continue.

Pressure from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) seemed to convince FEMA to come to its senses, despite the president’s eccentric priorities. The Realtors were upset because, without NFIP flood insurance, homebuyers couldn’t get mortgages on floodplain properties.

“A critical win for home sales,” said NAR President John Smaby, in a Dec. 28 media announcement that the NFIP would remain in effect after all. The decision, said Smaby, “means thousands of home sale transactions in communities across the country can go forward without interruption.”

One thing you can say for Trump: he seems to have a preternatural fondness for real estate transactions. I was surprised to learn he’s even got flood insurance on his Mar-a-Lago mansion. He gets it through the NFIP.

The right thing for me to do, I guess, would be to move to higher ground and be done with the whole conundrum of flooding, flood insurance and not knowing when the next big one will hit or how bad it will be. But it’s not that simple.

I don’t want to move. I like it here, except when the river’s in my house, as it has been a couple of times. Thanks to FEMA, we’ve raised our cabin above the 100-year flood level, which is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimate of how high the river might be expected to rise once every 100 years.

Unfortunately, thanks to global warming, climate change and sea level rise — the new normal — no one seems certain anymore where the 100-year flood level actually is.

All the more reason to carry flood insurance. I mailed my check to FEMA last week. I hope there’s someone there to cash it.

Frank Robertson is a member of the Sonoma West Publishers staff.