By Ann Klefstad
The rain kept falling that day in June 2008. In Kaministiquia, a community near Thunder Bay, staff from Ontario Power Generation monitored the Dog Lake Dam. Anxiety rose with the waters.
The forecast was full of nothing but rain. To avoid what staff believed might become a bursting dam, OPG opened the spillways for a controlled release of water.
Roads were washed out, yards submerged, basements filled and dozens of residents evacuated. The flood crested at more than 2 feet above normal levels.
As waters receded, Thunder Bay District Health Unit tested source waters, and municipal agencies marshaled disaster relief. Roads and homes needed repair and wells had to be decontaminated.
“Hopefully, as water levels drop and the damage is assessed,” Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal noted in an editorial, “the residents’ insurers won’t leave them high and dry.”
But most residents had no relevant insurance: In Ontario, insurance for overland flooding is not sold for residential property, leaving many homeowners in the Kam area without insurance coverage.
As the Lake Superior region enters winter, now is a great time to review what coverage you have on your home before it – and you – become victims of any ice storms, heavy snow damage or spring flooding that may arrive.
For example, what constitutes “external flooding”(like spring runoff into the basement) or “internal flooding” (like frozen pipes bursting) makes a huge difference on what your insurance will or will not cover.
The worst mistakes homeowners make in choosing and upgrading insurance, say regional agents, are to assume what is covered without asking or not to know about some low-cost additions that might recover major expenses when problems arise.
Unfortunately in the case of the Kaministiquia flooding, says Greg Jarvis of Smith & Associates Insurance of Thunder Bay, a number of residents didn’t have insurance to cover the damages.
That coverage is available to most homeowners, Greg says, and such endorsements typically are not expensive, just $25 to $40. Sometimes, depending on the circumstances, a case can be made that the water entered a home through sewer lines, even in cases of overland flooding. Then such an endorsement helps cover any damage.
Smith & Associates did have policyholders whose Dog Lake Dam flood damages were not covered. Some, says Greg, sought recourse from the township or from OPG.
They are not alone: 32 percent of all claims filed in Ontario this year were for water damage – the first time ever that water did more damage than fire (fire caused about 29 percent of claims).
Why? Greg surmises that the turbulent weather is one cause, and the increased cost of cleanup after water, with new protocols to contain mold and mildew, is another. “What had been $5,000 worth of damage, with the new protocols could be three times that,” he says, adding that it’s important to consult your broker to determine the scope of your coverage and the limitations or conditions for any water-related losses.
A Climate of Risk
Gleaning regional newspapers for the last few years shows a sample of what our wild northern climate can do:
• April 2001 – heavy rains near Solon Springs, Wisconsin, washed out the banks of Lake Nebagamon and Upper St Croix Lake, washing away cabins and roads.
• May 2003 – a dam on Silver Lake Basin near Marquette failed due to torrential rains, releasing 8 billion gallons of water into the Dead River. As the water gushed toward Lake Superior, it tore up roads and caused about $100 million in damage.
• October 2005 – a deluge flooded basements and tore up roads in Duluth and Bayfield, Wisconsin. Gale-force winds (up to 45 mph) sent trees crashing down on houses.
• June 2008 – storms brought flooding to Minnesota’s North Shore. Raging waters coursed down the hills above Grand Marais, flooding homes and businesses. These same storms affected the dam at Kaministiquia in Ontario.
• March 2009 – along the length of Minnesota’s North Shore and into Ontario, a heavy ice storm closed roads and downed power lines. Water damage came from power outages as sump pumps failed and basements flooded.
Obviously, area homeowners need to prepare and insure against weather-related problems.
Fending Off Disaster
On the U.S. side of the lake, residential and commercial subsidized flood insurance is offered to anyone – owner or renter – who lives in a community that participates in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Flood Insurance Program.
By participating, the community agrees to manage development in flood-prone areas, called Special Flood Hazard Areas. But even people outside these areas, at moderate to low risk of flood damage, can buy the insurance. For some it’s as low as $200 a year. The only thing necessary is that they live in communities that participate.
What do you do when you discover your community opted out of participation in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP)?
This happened to residents of Osceola Township in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, who discovered in 2007 that their township, part of which is in a flood plain, opted out of coverage in 1974. The township petitioned to be included and now residents can purchase flood insurance. The tradeoff is that they now will be required to buy NFIP insurance to get a mortgage loan if their property is in the flood zone.
Laurie Smith-Kuypers, FEMA spokesperson for the Lake Superior region, notes that “more than a quarter of flood insurance claims filed are not in high-risk areas. It can flood anywhere.”