BUFFALO, N.Y. - Some residents in Lackawanna are fed up with paying a mandatory federal fee they say doesn't benefit them at all.
The fee is for mandatory federal flood insurance.
About 200 homes in Lackawanna are in a flood zone that’s classified as a 100 year flood risk.
Because those homes are near Smokes Creek, FEMA requires this extra insurance.
The problem is the data that originally classified these homes as “at risk” is old and outdated.
"The D.E.C. has done their job to mitigate this problem, we need the Army Corps to look at this data," said Assemblyman Michael Kearns.
The D.E.C. spent more than $3 million dredging Smokes Creek.
The work took two years and has been done for several months, and that dredging should have lowered the flood risk.
A reduced risk would lower some residents’ required flood insurance and get rid of it altogether for others.
It hasn't yet, and in the eyes Kearns whose constituents are upset, the state is taking too long to reassess the risk.
"When I bought the house, I didn't know anything about this flood insurance,” said Elizabeth Paolini, who lives on Walnut Street. “Then, within a year and a half later, it just escalated, escalated, and now I'm up to $670.”
Her mortgage used to be just $500 a month. Paolini can't afford for this to go on.
"And they're paying more. Every year we wait, the cost goes up,” Kearns said.
Kearns is trying to push this process along so that people like Elizabeth can save what little money they make.
"We may be able to save her, just by looking at this [insurance bill], $1,000,” he said.
"How am I ever even going to want to sell this house? It's a cute little house, it's affordable...I'm 61 years old. How are we going to retire? This is my life now,” Paolini said.
To make matters worse, getting the Army Corps of Engineers to reclassify an area is just step one of a two-part, complicated process.
Each individual homeowner must also prove the risk to their house has been reduced. To do that, they have to submit a letter to the sate called a LOMA, which stands for Letter of Map Amendment.
Ken Espinosa's flood insurance was only $300 a year when he bought his Franklin Street house 37 years ago.
Today it's up to $1,700, and after refinancing his home, FEMA wants more.
"That's $2,500 a year. For what? You know, on the worst day it doesn't flood around here,” said Espinosa, who is 75 years old.
The insurance, while meant to protect him in an emergency, essentially subsidizes disasters elsewhere in the U.S., like the flooding in Louisiana.
Espinosa won't see a dime of the fees he pays if his basement floods; His house would have to be a total loss to be covered.
In the meantime, he wants this resolved as soon as possible; his next forced place insurance fee is due in December.
Kearns drafted a letter to New York Senator Chuck Schumer to get some help moving this process along. Schumer’s office sent Channel 2 the following statement:
“We are working to make sure the maps are accurate, up-to-date and based on the best science so hard-working homeowners are not asked to pay expensive insurance fees they can ill afford. We are working with local leaders, the ACOE, FEMA, and the state to try to make sure that only those homeowners truly at risk are included in the maps, and that the maps take into consideration important and new flood mitigation actions like the dredging of Smokes Creek.”