Interesting set of recent events from the National Marine Fisheries Service: Since development near bodies of water can adversely affect salmon population – and salmon populations are important for the web of life food chain to endangered orcas – they have determined that the federal flood insurance program currently available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is illegal. Both salmon and orcas are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

National Marine Fisheries Service NMFS logo
Federal Emergency Management Agency FEMA logo
This affects future development for any properties determined to be within flood plains, and it can also affect current owners seeking this type of ongoing insurance. In many cases, getting flood insurance in flood plains is difficult and expensive without having the FEMA program to rely upon. New development may be cost prohibitive and current owners may be left without viable insurance options.

For more information, see this article in the Seattle PI. The reporter covers the usual areas that people think of as a “flood plain”: areas near rivers that can crest and flood at times of heavy flow. However, the article does not talk about the many other areas that can be considered flood plains. Even Puget Sound waterfront can be considered flood plains due to tidal/storm surges, and lake shores can rise and flood as well. The frequency of both is very low in comparison to rivers, but nonetheless official classifications and flood plain maps do exist for these areas. Both future development and existing properties along many other bodies of water than rivers could definitely be affected.

Next steps will reside with FEMA to create development requirements that will be more compatible with salmon populations, and this may allow for the resumption of the FEMA flood insurance program around the Puget Sound area. However these kinds of programs and development compromises can take quite a long time to develop, so it will be interesting to track the effects from this on local waterfront properties.

If anything, it makes existing waterfront homes more valuable since development options for new waterfront properties are further restricted. Relatively few waterfront home owners (especially on the Sound and lakes) actually purchase the FEMA insurance, so the downsides of lacking the insurance will likely be negligible except for cases where such insurance may be a requirement of a buyer obtaining financing.

We’ll see what happens…

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