Warwick’s waterfront has long been a preferred place to live.
That’s understandable. Vistas of Narragansett Bay, Greenwich Bay, the Providence River and numerous coves can be spectacular day and night. And there’s so much more. With access to the shoreline there’s opportunity for beach walks, boating, bird watching, fishing and even shellfishing in some locations.
The waterfront is also prone to the effects of Nor’easters and hurricanes. No storm in the last century hit Warwick harder than the hurricane of 1938. Once a resort community with a hotel and numerous amenities, Oakland Beach was virtually leveled. Homes built on pilings on Conimicut Point were found in East Providence. The devastation was horrific, as was the loss of life.
Yet, the waterfront didn’t lose its allure.
By the time Hurricane Carol hit in 1954, many of the homes in Oakland Beach, Potowomut, Conimicut and along coves had been rebuilt. Many were grander than the ones they replaced.
Storms since Carol have taken their toll but, by and large, Warwick has avoided the frontal attack of a major storm. In terms of cost, we venture to guess that the March flood of 2010 that inundated Warwick Mall, the city’s wastewater treatment plant and numerous residents did more flood damage than any storm since Carol.
But that doesn’t mean it can’t, or won’t, happen again. That’s a reason for flood insurance.
But now some officials, as well as realtors, are forecasting that, with flood insurance reform passed last year, many living near the shore will be forced from their homes by rising insurance rates and not rising storm waters.
This hardly seems to be idle talk, with projections that rates for $250,000 worth of flood insurance – the maximum available under the federally-run program – could be as high as $25,000 a year. Under the reform act, subsidies are being phased out and property owners will be faced with premiums based on risk rates. Generally, the lower the livable space of a home is below the base flood elevation, the greater the risk and the higher the premium.
The basis for the law makes sense. Why should the government be subsidizing the rebuilding of homes and businesses in areas that get hit with flooding every three or four years? And why should those in marginal flood areas be paying premiums to underwrite those situated in the face of storms?
What’s happening does make sense, unless you’re one of those homeowners suddenly faced with an exorbitant insurance premium, one that could actually be more than mortgage payments and taxes combined.
We don’t have the numbers but we suspect, with 38 miles of coastline, hundreds of property owners face this possibility. But this is not just their problem; this is a community crisis.
There are means to mitigate premium costs by elevating livable areas. While this may not be practical for some homeowners, we urge those affected to contact the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency and explore what options they have. And we urge RIEMA and FEMA to have the personnel versed in the program available, not just to answer questions but also assist in keeping their homes affordable for more than just those people who can afford to self-insure.