The cost of federal insurance is going up for 168 property owners in Douglas County as the federal government phases out subsidized insurance in areas designated as "special flood hazard areas."
Those areas are generally in the flood plains along the Kansas and Wakarusa rivers, as well as a few other portions of the county.
Andy Megrail of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's regional office in Kansas City, Mo., briefed Douglas County commissioners about the changes on Wednesday.
Douglas County flood zone map ( .PDF )
"Flood risk is continuing to cost more and more as years go by," Megrail said. He cited a string of major natural disasters in recent years - from Hurricane Sandy last year to Hurricane Katrina that devastated much of the Gulf Coast in 2005 - that have depleted reserves under the National Flood Insurance Program.
"NFP no longer has the money to cover all the disasters we're seeing," he said.
Under the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, sometimes referred to as BW-12, Congress sought to shore up the fund by eliminating many of the subsidies that some property owners had enjoyed for many years.
At first, Megrail said, rates will increase for all properties in special flood areas that are not used as a primary residence. That includes businesses as well as cabins and vacation homes. Over the course of four years, their rates will rise until they reflect the "true risk" of flood damage.
People with a primary residence in those areas will continue to receive subsidized coverage as long as they own the property, and as long as they keep the policies current. But once the property is sold, or if the insurance lapses for any reason, owners will have to pay the full cost of the policies.
New policies sold after July 6, 2012, are now being charged the full cost of the risk, Megrail said.
According to information from FEMA, there are 168 subsidized policies issued under the program for properties in Douglas County, or about 27 percent of all flood insurance policies. There are 450 policies that are not subsidized and, therefore, will not be affected by the changes.
In other business, commissioners discussed the possibility of seeking historic designation for the Douglas County Courthouse through the city of Lawrence's Historic Resources Commission.
The building is already listed on both federal and state registers of historic places. But commission chairman Mike Gaughan, a Democrat, noted that a recent change in state law means those designations no longer protect the "environs" around the building.
Putting the courthouse on the local historic property lists would give its environs protection under local zoning and building codes.
"With the ongoing rejuvenation of downtown and off (Massachusetts Street), I feel it's important for us to have a say in the development around our environs, and this building in particular," Gaughan said. "That's not to say we oppose any proposal in particular. We want to work with people who work with us."
Lawrence developer Doug Compton has proposed building a multistory apartment and retail building at 11th and Massachusetts, directly north of the courthouse.
Commissioner Jim Flory, a Republican, expressed reservations about the idea, saying the county might be ceding some of its own authority to make future decisions about the building itself.
"I understand desire to designate this as historic," he said. "But are we giving up our right to make this a building that best serves this county and future county commissions?"
Commissioners took no action, but Gaughan indicated the issue will likely come up on the county's agenda in the near future.