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Officials question flood insurance order

Thousands of homeowners in South Buffalo and Lovejoy are being forced to pay for flood insurance they'll likely never be able to use, and some local leaders are demanding federal reforms.

Officials released results of a year-long survey of affected property owners Friday. Washington has classified about 2,700 city properties as being located in a flood plain. By law, any properties with mortgages in such a zone must buy flood insurance.

But Council Members Michael P. Kearns of South and Richard A. Fontana of Lovejoy said Buffalo has never experienced the type of flooding calamity that would qualify people to collect for damages. Kearns insisted the federal mandate serves only one purpose: to subsidize the costs of catastrophes in other regions.

"This is really a flood tax," he insisted.

He added that researchers have been unable to find even one city property owner who has received damage claims tied to the federally mandated flood insurance.

"In very simplistic terms, it's an absolute rip-off," said Assemblyman Mark Schroeder, a Buffalo Democrat.

The survey involved 732 property owners. The average flood insurance premium was $534 a year, although some were paying as much as $5,500. Fontana claimed forcing people to pay for insurance that is useless to them is as much a "financial injustice" as the Niagara Thruway toll booths at Ogden and Breckenridge streets that were phased out last year.

The city will hire a consultant this summer to prepare studies aimed at trying to convince federal emergency management officials to declassify properties from being in flood zones, or at least redraw the boundaries.

Meanwhile, Schroeder is sponsoring state legislation that would prohibit lenders from forcing homeowners to buy flood insurance in excess of amounts required by federal law. Officials said this practice has also caused hardships for some property owners.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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