Floodwaters from the Salamonie River cover Meridian Street (U.S. 27) in Portland on the afternoon of Monday, Feb. 28. Most of the properties on the north side of the river along Meridian Street, including the Jay Community Center (pictured at upper right of the photo) were not covered by flood insurance. (Special to The Commercial Review/Brian Henry)
Floodwaters from the Salamonie River cover Meridian Street (U.S. 27) in Portland on the afternoon of Monday, Feb. 28. Most of the properties on the north side of the river along Meridian Street, including the Jay Community Center (pictured at upper right of the photo) were not covered by flood insurance. (Special to The Commercial Review/Brian Henry)
It’s not typically a complicated concept.
You have costly possessions you want to be able to repair or replace, so you pay an insurance company an annual fee (premiums) so that in the event of an accident, natural disaster or theft, the company will pay the costs incurred.
But when it comes to floods like the one experienced recently in Jay County, it’s not quite that easy.
Flood damage isn’t covered in most instances by traditional homeowners or business insurance policies, and most property owners aren’t required to carry the coverage.
The property owners that are required to carry flood insurance — most generally, those who owe money to a lending institution on property located in a primary flood hazard area (as determined by government flood zone maps) — are likely to pay tens of thousands of dollars in premiums without ever collecting a dime for damage.
Kevin Inman, an independent agent who operates Inman Insurance in Portland, saw first-hand the impact of the floods as his North Meridian Street office was swamped by about a foot of floodwaters on Monday, Feb. 28.
The office, located just south of city hall between High and Arch streets, isn’t in the primary flood hazard zone and Inman says with a laugh that the structure was not covered by flood insurance.
“The people that do get (flood insurance) … the bank requires. And when they insure it, they’ll get it with a $5,000 deductible,” Inman said.
Steve Arnold, an agent for Portland Insurance, agrees with Inman’s assessment.
“I’ve never had anybody walk in and willingly buy (flood insurance). Usually it’s because the banks require it. There are very few triggers (to paying for flood damage). It is expensive, but not as expensive as losing things to the flood,” says Arnold, who had two clients with flood insurance coverage that sustained damage in the recent event.
But with premiums that generally are higher than for other types of property insurance that cover a much broader range of circumstances, it all boils down to something of a gamble.
Inman, who was forced to hire a water restoration company to get his office back to working condition, is planning a major remodeling project of the interior to go along with exterior work already underway.
The firm plans to move for about three weeks to the former Mutual Security location on East Main Street while the walls, ceiling and floor of the current office are re-done.
“This kinda forced my hand,” Inman says.

What’s a flood?
Just because water causes damage to a home or business doesn’t mean that it’s a flood.
In fact, a very specific set of circumstances and events must occur before companies will even consider paying a flood insurance claim.
Jim Wright, an agent for State Farm Insurance of Portland, says that sheer size is one criteria for determining whether an event is a legal “flood.”
“It has to be at least 3 acres before there’s any coverage … flood insurance may not (be paid) because the state or federal government may determine it’s not a flood,” says Wright, who says that backup from sewers or drains is specifically exempted in flood insurance. However, those with basements or items of value in expanded crawlspaces should consider adding backup of sewers and drains coverage to traditional homeowners.
“People that have basements should have backup of sewers or drains (coverage),” says Wright. “You can generally buy that for $100 a year.”
Inman concurred with Wright’s advice on sewer and drain backup coverage, and said he also sometimes struggles with the flood definition parameters.
“It’s still not an exact science like wind and fire,” Inman says. “It’s a difficult problem for everybody.”
Arnold says that it is his understanding that two key elements must be in place for an event to be defined as a flood: A stream, ditch or river must overrun its banks, and water must flow into structures through “the lowest level opening above ground.”
“If you have a basement, your lowest level opening is going to be your door,” says Arnold.

What happened?
In parts of Portland, the water that damaged homes and businesses may or may not have come directly from the Salamonie River. In many cases — especially in areas north of Main Street — the “flooding” was caused by rainfall that was unable to drain or from combined storm and sewer water that backed up through storm drains and onto streets and eventually, as it rose, into yards.
Areas closer to the river, such as East and West Water streets, East Third Street and West Second St., were affectedly directly by river flooding, as was Jaqua Avenue and areas between Main Street and Water Street west from Meridian Street.
Wright says that it is his understanding that city storm drains are not equipped to prevent floodwaters from backing up into the city sewer system in times of high water. Under the high volume of water experienced on Feb. 28, back-pressure contributed to flooding issues in many Portland neighborhoods.
Although some of the areas that experienced high water on Feb. 28 are in the primary flood hazard area, many of the hardest hit areas are not (including the area around East Jay Middle School and the Jay Community Center and the south side of the Salamonie River both east and west of Meridian Street.
The most recent flood hazard maps from state and federal officials are from the 1970s, and most who have seen the maps agree that an update is in order.
“Basically (the map is) saying our base flood elevation is 908 feet (above sea level). It’s saying … if you’re at or below (908 feet) … you’re in the A (flood) zone,” says Arnold.
That primary zone is designed to reflect a once in every 100 year flooding event — something that might puzzle those old enough to remember the 1957 flood. That 1957 event saw higher water in some areas of Portland (including the stretch along Meridian Street) than this time around. But on the other hand, the flooding in some parts of town was worse on Feb. 28.
“Did the event we have accurately represent the 1 percent (chance of a major flood). That map says … once in every years, there should be a flood of this magnitude … was that the 100-year event?” Arnold asks rhetorically.

What should you do?
There is no simple answer.
For those who have a mortgage, one part of the question has been answered: You will buy flood insurance.
Wright, Arnold and Inman said that many lending institutions are now requiring mortgage-holders to pay for coverage equal to the replacement cost on the structure and not just an amount equal to the amount owed.
That could prevent the property owner from walking away after a flood and leaving the bank holding the note to a flood-ravaged structure.
Those who purchase flood insurance may also choose to add coverage for contents, although the reimbursement amounts are limited as compared to traditional coverage.
The choice of whether or not to purchase flood insurance for those in flood-prone areas but not in the primary hazard area is up to the individual.
Arnold, who says that the standard deductible (or amount the property owner is responsible for on a claim) is $1,000 for flood insurance, says many choose a higher deductible to lower premiums.
And he adds that he is not aware of any events between 1957 and this year that would have triggered payment of claims on flood insurance, meaning that someone could have theoretically been paying premiums for 54 years with no benefits.
Arnold says he has talked to three or four people about flood insurance coverage since Feb. 28, but has not sold any policies.