Wisconsin Insurance Commissioner Nathan Houdek joined County Executive Samantha Kerkman and other local officials Monday on a tour of Kenosha County’s flood mitigation efforts.
Houdek’s visit coincided with the start of Flood Insurance Awareness Week — a time, he said, for people to consider the benefits of flood coverage, even for those whose property may not be within a defined floodplain.
“We encourage people to talk to their insurance agent or visit floodsmart.gov and make sure you have the right coverage,” Houdek said.
Houdek cited a statistic that makes the case for coverage: While the average flood insurance premium costs slightly less than $1,000 per year, the average claim is roughly $44,000.
In unincorporated areas of Kenosha County, the county’s participation in the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Ratings System allows for a discount of up to 25 percent for policyholders who live in Special Flood Hazard Areas, according to the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance.
Only 17 units of local government across the state participate in the voluntary Community Rating System, and Kenosha County is one just two in the state and 170 nationally to achieve a Class 5 rating.
That recognition, which means higher discounts for policy holders, is a recognition of Kenosha County’s ongoing Fox River floodplain buyout program, said county Planning and Development Director Andy Buehler.
Since 1995, the program has obtained Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to purchase 186 parcels — including 119 residences — located in the floodplain. This voluntary program offers residents the opportunity to relocate to dryer ground, leaving the county-owned properties to revert to being natural land in the floodplain.
Paddock Lake Village Administrator Tim Popanda, a participant in Monday’s tour, praised the program.
“What Andy’s done, what the county has done, is wonderful for the residents who lived there,” said Popanda, who noted that many of these people have chosen to relocate elsewhere within the county.
Monday’s tour began with a meeting at the County Center in Bristol, and then wound through neighborhoods in Salem Lakes and Wheatland, where the county has purchased dozens of houses that previously flooded regularly.
It also included a stop in the former Village of Silver Lake, now part of Salem Lakes, where the historic flooding of July 2017 soaked some homes that are just outside of the floodplain, where flooding had not occurred previously.
“It was heartbreaking to see, and knowing full well that they didn’t have flood insurance,” said Kerkman, who along with County Board Vice Chair Erin Decker — also on Monday’s tour — went door to door, seeking to help people during the worst of the flooding.
Houdek and Buehler underscored the fact that property owners do not need to live within a floodplain to purchase flood insurance.
“It’s not just for those in the floodplain,” Buehler said. “It’s for everybody.”
More information is available on FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program website, at www.floodsmart.gov/, and from the state at oci.wi.gov/Pages/Consumers/FloodInsurance.aspx.