An altered flood relief bill won't come before Congress until early March, despite hopes that congressional representatives would take up the issue in late February.
According to RollCall.com, the bill lacked the necessary number of votes to move forward. The language is being put to a rewrite to alleviate some Democrat concerns.
The bill was expected to make its way before Congress on Wednesday, a step that may bring relief to thousands of South Shore residents coping with the effects of a federal flood insurance mandate.
“They were cueing it up and ironing out their differences to be voted as early this week…to have a full vote of the U.S. Senate and House [before Congress adjourns in June],” said state Rep. Jim Cantwell, a Marshfield Democrat, on Tuesday afternoon.
The bill seeks to augment the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, which imposed steep flood insurance premiums for everyone in new flood zones. Legislators said the mandate’s goal was to better reflect the cost of coastal flooding and to make the National Flood Insurance Program solvent.
Coupled with new Federal Emergency Management Agency maps, thousands of coastal homeowners saw an increase in rates. Others experienced exorbitant flood insurance premiums for the first time despite living miles from the coast.
State and federal legislators have since taken up the mantle to effect changes to the law. The U.S. Senate passed a version of the relief bill at the end of January.
Though House Speaker John Boehner initially said he would not take up a relief bill, an augmented proposal has been brought to the floor.
In its present form, the new proposal will eliminate some sections of the bill, such as requirements that new homeowners purchasing a primary residents instantly have to pay the newer, and higher rates, rather than the grandfathered rates of the previous homeowners.
There are also discussions of a cap to how much flood insurance would be allowed to rise per year. Currently rates cannot go up more than 20 percent. The new bill would require that rates go up at least five percent, but no more than 15 percent for the average rate within a group of similarly risked properties.
“People would be seeing increases but they would be manageable,” Cantwell said.
Rather than a four year delay to removal of subsidies, subsidies would be reinstated for homes that were constructed before flood maps were created in the community.
Grandfathering would also be reinstated. Homeowners or business owners who built to previous building codes that are no longer good enough for new expected flood levels won’t see flood insurance increases, Cantwell said.
“They would be able to lock in to an elevation at the time they did their work. That’s good news,” Cantwell said.
The house bill would also reimburse homeowners that have paid rates that have since been adjusted due to the changing mandate.
To pay for the cost of repealing the bill, homeowners would have to pay a surcharge in addition to their bill. For primary residents, that would be $25. For everyone else - vacation homeowners, business, non-profits, schools - that surcharge would be $250.
Present bill language would keep the affordability study proposed in the Senate, and would also create and fund a flood insurance rate advocate.
If an altered bill is passed in the House, the two bils would go to conference committee to iron out the differences. Both houses would then vote the bill up or down to be sent to the president.
“Congress will be adjourning in June, so the hope is to have action in the house this week or next in the latest,” Cantwell said.
U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch was not available for comment, however Cantwell credited him and U.S. Rep William Keating with the work they had done to progress the bill.
“They deserve a lot of credit…they have been very good on this, and when there was a government shutdown, they were having meetings to get a bipartisan support,” Cantwell said.
To read the entire text of the proposed bill, click here.
The $75 million in fisheries disaster relief approved by the federal government has been good news for the fishing industry as a whole, but South Shore fishermen are uncertain as to how much relief they will receive.
“The good news was the overall package, the things uncertain to me is how much would be for Massachusetts itself,” said state Representative Jim Cantwell, a Marshfield Democrat who also represents Scituate.
Competition will be high for the funding, which was approved in mid-January as part of a $1.012 trillion spending bill. According to staff in US Senator Elizabeth Warren’s office, the money will support those impacted by six fishing disasters declared around the country.
In New England, the 2012 groundfish fishery failure affected fishermen from Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey. The disaster was declared due to low fishing stocks key to the industry.
Funds will be distributed in the form of block grants to each state, and distributed based on need. Government agencies from each affected area were compiling loss totals in the interim.
Whatever Massachusetts eventually receives, Cantwell hoped Scituate and Marshfield fishermen would see some relief.
“Marshfield and Scituate are the fourth most productive fishing ports in the state – after New Bedford, Gloucester, and Boston. We do have a pretty thriving fishing community in the area,” Cantwell said.
According to Scituate fisherman Frank Mirarchi, the need for help is dire.
“[In] Scituate, there’s nobody fishing,” Mirarchi said. “Between the horrible weather, which has been a deterrent and that we’ve run out of fish to catch in the first week of February. The fishing year doesn’t end until April.”
Mirarchi said the problem lies with annual catch limits, which go through April 30. This year, limits are at a record low for the region, down 50 percent from 2012, which was down 50 percent from the year prior.
The changing limits have been coupled with wide swings in fish population. The result has been an overabundance of fish in one species, but not enough quota to catch them, or a low population of fish in another species with quotas that can’t be fulfilled.
Since 2012, the problem has put seven out of 15 Scituate fishermen out of business. Of the eight that still exist, none currently has work, Mirarchi said.
“The relief money is desperately needed,” Mirarchi said. “There are people living hand to mouth. There is no savings and no income for the next three to four months.”
The funding will help in two main areas, the senator's staff said, providing relief to fishermen struggling in the short term, but also providing money to study and ameliorate fishing problems in the long term.
“My main goals are making sure that disaster relief aid is distributed as soon as possible to those who need it most, and ensuring that funds are used both to provide short-term relief and to support the long-term sustainability of Massachusetts’ fishing communities,” Warren said in an e-mailed statement.
Cantwell was concerned that money might be diverted to groups such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or the Department of Marine Fisheries.
Yet the senator’s office confirmed that the funds would not be used for things state and federal groups would pay for out of their normal budget.
The timeline for the funding is still unknown. Staff in the senator’s office said officials were working quickly to create a distribution plan, but were waiting on feedback from all the stakeholders.
Last week, the Northeast Seafood Coalition, which represents a majority of groundfish permit holders including Scituate fishermen; the Cape Cod Fishing Alliance; and Maine Fishing Association all outlined their spending hopes.
Concerns over new flood maps have abated temporarily with an announcement Friday that Plymouth County communities won’t have to approve the maps until at least 2015.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency maps were set to add hundreds of coastal properties to the flood plain and also drastically increase flood-insurance premiums for homeowners who already were in flood zones because flood elevations were to be raised well beyond existing levels.
Many communities had been required to approve the maps at spring Town Meeting, but the FEMA decision means map approval, and the new map's effects, will be delayed at least a year.
“This is what we’ve been hoping for,” said U.S. Congressman William Keating, who has pushed for the delay since the new maps were released.
FEMA cited the concerns raised through a scientific review that Keating had commissioned as a reason for the delay. The determination was also propelled by flood map appeals in Scituate, Marshfield, and Duxbury.
The announcement comes on the heels of a vote in the US Senate on Thursday to delay a federal mandate set to increase flood insurance rates. That legislation faces an uncertain future in the House, and the White House has expressed its opposition to major provisions.
Long-term relief will require enacting of the legislation.
“We’re working on the legislative side where the Senate has passed a delay, but this will give us another tool to help people all over the country and outside of Plymouth County as well,” Keating said.
Photos by Jessica Bartlett, Boston.com staff
US Senator Elizabeth Warren visited Marshfield on Jan. 21 to discuss potential changes to flood-insurance regulations that have sharply raised premiums for many South Shore residents.
Click here to see photos from Warren's visit.
Scituate and Marshfield officials may be concerned about new flood maps and drastically higher flood-insurance premiums, but US Senator Elizabeth Warren said solutions are in sight.
At a public meeting with local officials and residents Tuesday, Warren spoke optimistically about the flood insurance issues, posing solutions to problematic new maps and higher insurance premiums that towns have been frantically trying to appeal.
"This is really about protecting homeowners,” Warren said.
Warren told the room that the Senate will take a vote on a bill early next week to place a four-year delay on the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, a federal mandate that has drastically raised flood-insurance rates.
The bill also would limit annual increases in flood insurance rates, require an affordability study to be performed on the program, and reimburse residents that successfully contest their map changes.
“We can’t do this to people,” Warren told the packed room at Marshfield’s Ventress Memorial Library. “You have to make sure you have the right science, [that you have an] affordability study, and you have to have a way to challenge the flood maps, so if they aren’t right, you aren’t out of pocket a lot of money.”
Local officials have been scurrying for months to deal with the Biggert-Waters Reform, which changed how the National Flood Insurance Program is run.
Rates are considerably higher under the new program, to make the program solvent as well as to charge a higher rate for properties the Federal Emergency Management Agency have deemed to be a higher risk.
For many towns, the reform has been coupled with new FEMA flood maps that substantially expanded the flood zones.
The bill, if enacted, would help mitigate impacts, Warren said.
"We understand if we can get it through the Senate, we’re in good shape in the House…they want to push this one forward," she said.
Warren said that local feedback would strengthen her argument for the bill's passage, and meeting participants provided plenty of examples.
Marshfield Board of Selectmen Chair Steve Robbins said the town spent $32,000 fighting the flood maps, and the funding would have to be reaped elsewhere from the budget.
Marshfield Town Administrator Rocco Longo and Scituate Town Administrator Patricia Vinchesi also spoke against the FEMA appeal process. Although towns adhered to tight timelines for appeals, FEMA's response was vague or nonexistent, they said.
According to residents, the maps and federal mandate would have severe and varied.consequences. Matt McDonough, a Marshfield selectman who owns a home a mile inland, said his flood insurance premiums would go from zero of $5,000 a year.
“That’s devastating for a local family,” he said.
State Rep. Jim Cantwell, who organized the public meeting, also referenced some who have seen rates go from a couple thousand dollars to as high as $68,000 annually.
Businesses too said flood reform would have a negative impact. Chris White, president and CEO of Road to Responsibility, would pay $100,000 annually in flood insurance costs despite being miles from the coast. Though one of the largest employers in Marshfield, he has no money to pay those fees, he said.
Chuck Haddad, owner of Haddad’s Restaurant, said he spent $3.3 million to raise his 77-year-old restaurant 13 feet, two feet above the old flood elevation, yet three feet short of the new flood levels.
The difference means his insurance would go from $5,300 to $22,000 annually.
“We did everything right, what the federal government told us, what the town told us, and we’re being penalized,” Haddad said.
Though the proposed flood reform relief wouldn’t exempt businesses from new rates, Cantwell said it would limit the increases businesses could see year to year.
real estate agencts and bank managers urged federal action, with several referencing the recent financial crisis.
The chilling impact on housing sales and housing prices would ultimately affect town finances, said David Ball of Scituate’s Coastal Coalition.
The concerns called for a longer-term solution, Ball said.
Warren agreed that the problem wouldn’t be entirely solved with a delay. Long-term, the science behind the maps needs to be reviewed, and a process put in place that homeowners could appeal flood maps without financial consequence, she said.
“We’ve got more work to do, but at least we’re headed in the right direction,” she said.
Marshfield’s town hall was closed Thursday due to a major water line break, but is expected to reopen Friday morning, said Tom Reynolds, director of the town’s Department of Public Works.
A unit on the roof of the building froze due to cold weather last night, which caused the line to release water and pour down through the ceilings and onto the floors, he said.
“It flooded the first and second floors on one of the sides of the building,” Reynolds said. “It was wet through the hallways and there was relatively no damage to important documents.”
A water department employee and a veteran’s agent were the first people in the building at about 6:30 a.m. and noticed the flooding. The employee turned off the water to stop the flooding and then made calls to ServiceMaster to clean up the area, he said.
The Town Administrator, Rocco Longo, made the decision at about 8 a.m. to close Town Hall for the day, Reynolds said.
“We had five job interviews today that had to be rescheduled from the DPW and a pre-bid opening meeting for the Bass Creek project,” he said. “We were able to contact all the vendors and relocate it to the Highway Garage at 35 Parsonage St.”
Reynolds said the heat has been turned back on and the Service Master is finishing the clean up process. Once the water is cleared, they can turn the water and electricity back on, he said.
All residents are encouraged to check out www.townofmarshfield.org for more updated information on the closing.
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Cask ‘n Flagon to host fundraiser following the passing of Christie Billodeau-Fazio
WHAT: On December 14, Marshfield native Christie Billodeau Fazio tragically passed away from childbirth complications following the delivery of her healthy baby boy. Christie is survived by her husband, John Fazio, and their newborn son, Jonathan.
Cask ‘n Flagon in Marshfield will host an open fundraiser for the Fazios on January 22 to help support to the family during this unimaginably trying time. Fazio is a member of the Cask ‘n Flagon valet team and his colleagues have sprung into action to ensure they can lend a helping hand. After making a donation at the door, supporters will be able to purchase raffle tickets for a chance to win scores of prizes such as an iPad Mini, Bruins tickets, ski passes, top restaurant gift certificates and much more. Guests can also enter into a 50/50 raffle and there will be an appetizer buffet and cash bar available.
WHERE: Cask ‘n Flagon · 804 Plain Street · Marshfield, MA 02050
WHEN: Wednesday, January 22 from 6-9pm
COST: Admission: $25 donation to the Fazio family (includes appetizer buffet and a complimentary raffle ticket)
Raffle tickets: $5 each; $10 for three
MORE INFO: For those unable to attend and wanting to show support, Cask ‘n Flagon is accepting donations on behalf of the Fazio family through January 22.
ABOUT THE CASK ‘N FLAGON
The world famous Cask 'n Flagon began as a small neighborhood bar known as Oliver’s in 1969. What was once known as the little bar on the corner of Brookline Avenue and Lansdowne Street is now a landmark location for diehard Red Sox fans, sports enthusiast, college students, locals and tourists. Many have said that the Cask 'n Flagon is as synonymous to Fenway Park as the infamous Green Monster and Citgo sign. After 43 years, “The Cask” still holds the heart of Boston. Its walls are filled with black and white photographs of old time baseball greats such as Bobby Doerr (#1), Joe Cronin (#4), Carl Yastrzemski (#8), Ted Williams (#9), Carlton Fisk (#27) and many others. The tradition continues with the new location in Marshfield, MA. Both locations proudly serving hand crafted cocktails and extensive craft beer and wine menus as well as outstanding lunch and dinner menus that are made from scratch. For more information, please visit: www.casknflagon.com and www.caskmarshfield.com.
Information courtesy of Hingham Police
South Shore communities are combining efforts to reduce drunk driving with a districtwide designated driver program.
Started in Hingham a decade ago, the program seeks to partner with local restaurants and bars, encouraging them to give the designated driver free non alcoholic beverages and reminding the establishments to serve responsibly.
“The best way to reduce drunk driving is to keep intoxicated persons from operating a vehicle,” organizers said in a release.
The program has grown in pieces over the last decade, starting in Hingham after a serious Thanksgiving night crash in the town in 2002.
Though the driver involved in the crash wasn’t coming from a Hingham restaurant, police said they started looking for ways to be proactive around the holidays.
The 2003 holiday season marked the first designated driver program for the town, with half of local businesses participating in the campaign. By 2005, every Hingham business was a participant, and the effort had become a year-round event.
The Plymouth County District Attorney’s office became involved in 2006, using money received from drunk driving forfeitures to provide magnets, stickers, and brochures.
Norwell Police came on board in 2010, followed by Rockland in 2011. As Marshfield joined in 2013, all four communities have come together with the District Attorney to make the program regionwide.
“The four communities together bring a total of over 70 establishments participating in the program and serve over 77,000 residents,” organizers said.
Police are optimistic about the expansion of the program, as the existing program has already reduced incidents of drunk driving, they said.
According to the release, 19 alcohol fatalities occurred in 2008 in Plymouth County. By 2012, that number had gone down to 12.
In all 14 Massachusetts counties, only Dukes, Middlesex, Plymouth, and Worcester had a decrease in drunk driving fatalities in the same time period, with Plymouth having the largest percentage decrease.
Yet there is still work to be done. Police said 56 people have been killed cumulatively in the last five years in Plymouth County due to alcohol-related crashes.
Continued enforcement and awareness campaigns are the answer, police said, and over time, the hope is the program reinforces the use of designated drivers, keeps the subject of drunk driving in the forefront of the public’s mind, and develops a relationship between restaurants and police before an incident occurs.
Heading into the new year, Senate President Therese Murray is feeling no sense of urgency to make her future political plans public before April, the month nomination papers to run for office are due to local clerks.
“I’ll make the decision by April. That’s when I usually make the decision,” Murray told the News Service in an interview Thursday.
The Plymouth Democrat said she was not worried that holding off on announcing a decision would impede the ability of potential candidates to organize a campaign for her seat should she decide not to run.
“I believe people are already, and have been for many years, looking at the seat,” Murray said.
Murray said the situation with her continuing as Senate president and Senate Majority Leader Stanley Rosenberg waiting in the wings is no different than when she sewed up the votes to succeed former Senate President Robert Travaglini a year before Travaglini left the Legislature, and said it has not led to any tension among Democrats in the Senate.
Murray got a tough challenge from Republican Tom Keyes in 2010 before soundly defeating him in 2012.
Murray’s district covers Bourne, Falmouth, Kingston, Pembroke, Plymouth and Sandwich, areas represented in the House by Reps. Thomas Calter (D-Kingston), Vinny deMacedo (R-Plymouth), David Vieira (D-East Falmouth) and Randy Hunt (R-East Sandwich).
– M. Murphy/SHNS
Lawmakers waded back into a battle waged for years between environmentalists who want to shorten the permitting process for smaller wind energy projects and residents who say their health suffers from living near a turbine.
During a legislative hearing Tuesday, residents who live near turbines accused environmental activists of persistently pushing legislation to make it easier to permit land-based wind energy projects without acknowledging health effects. Environmentalists argued benefits of the renewable energy outweigh some of the negative impacts.
George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, told lawmakers on the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee they need to have the political will to pass legislation streamlining the permitting process.
“Wind energy is the future,” he said. “And to think that progress in this area can come without any harm is a misconception.”
Bachrach argued that when highways were built some people were hurt when they lost property, but there was “overall common good.”
“Somehow there is this notion in Massachusetts that we cannot build wind energy unless no one is hurt,” he said.
Two bills before the committee (H 2980 and S 1591), filed by Rep. Frank Smizik and Sen. Barry Finegold, would institute comprehensive siting reform for land-based wind projects.
Similar legislation made it all the way through the House in 2010, but the Senate failed to finish work on the bill. Senators in favor of it attempted to get it passed during informal sessions, but it was repeatedly blocked by opponents during that summer.
Supporters of that bill, including the Patrick administration, said it would have helped expedite wind-based turbine projects while preserving the ability of municipalities to reject unwanted projects. No one from the Patrick administration testified on the bills Tuesday.
During the hearing, some opponents argued Massachusetts is too densely populated to allow wind turbines to be built anywhere on land.
Residents from Falmouth who live near a wind facility urged lawmakers not to pass the bill.
Neil Anderson, a Falmouth resident who lives one quarter-mile away from a turbine, described his suffering. Along with headaches, Anderson said he has trouble concentrating and memory loss. He said he has to leave his house when the winds are high.
“My life has been torn upside down. All I do now is fight wind turbines,” he said.
Anderson refuted claims by some environmentalists who say the wind turbines do not cause health problems.
“They just don’t have a clue about what is going on,” Anderson said. “This is about massive wind generators that are just too close.”
Anderson argued that Massachusetts is too densely populated for turbines to be sited anywhere in the state. “They don’t belong anywhere in Massachusetts,” he said.
He invited lawmakers to sit on his front porch and “see what these turbines can do.”
“Maybe one of you will get a headache, start feeling the pressure in your ears, because it’s real,” Anderson said.
In January 2012, an independent report commissioned by the Patrick administration concluded that wind turbines present little more than an "annoyance" to residents and that limited evidence exists to support claims of devastating health impacts. Falmouth and western Massachusetts residents argued at the time that the report was biased and based on "cherry-picked" information that ignored the real-world impact of turbines.
Smizik, a Democrat from Brookline who chairs the House Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, said current law favors large fossil fuel plants because only energy plants larger than 100 megawatts can go to the Energy Facilities Siting Board for a consolidated permit. Land-based facilities tend to be much smaller, so they do not have the “luxury” of the fast-tracked permitting option available to fossil fuel plants.
Smizik said the legislation he filed would streamline the process for on-shore wind energy only if the project met strict public safety and environmental standards.
“This bill does not give special interest to the wind energy industry, it just levels the playing field,” Smizik said.
The legislation establishes clear standards and timely and predictable permitting procedures, Smizik said, reducing the time and cost for wind projects.
Smizik said the legislation does not take away local control, something opponents contend it does. There is opportunity for public input, he said.
Rep. Timothy Madden, a Democrat from Nantucket, opposed the bill, saying it takes away a “great deal” of local control.
“My opposition on this bill has not changed over the last several years,” Madden said.
Madden filed a bill (H 2957) that would allow coastal communities to create exclusion zones for wind turbine development.
Smizik said one area of opportunity for wind energy that is being missed is in agricultural land. Farmers struggling to maintain viable farmlands could develop wind farms on their land as a way to power farms and increase profits by selling the energy, he said.
Michael Parry, a sheep farmer who owns 220 acres in Shelburne, said he would never put a wind facility on his property after researching the effects of turbines.
“I would never subject our neighbors to that. I wouldn’t subject my family to that, and I wouldn’t subject my livestock to that,” he said.
Parry mentioned a wind facility located near a dairy farm in Glenmore, Wisconsin where the farmer reported reduced milk production from his cows after the turbines went up. Parry said he favors renewable energy, but feels environmentalists are pushing projects before the impacts are understood.