Editor's note: This is an excerpt from an article from NBC News, reprinted with permission. This is part two of a series. For the full story, see investigations.nbcnews.com
ORANGE BEACH, Ala. -- The builder of the most luxurious condominiums on this sugar-white sand beach had a problem. One of the twin towers of Turquoise Place was just inside a line on a federal flood map, a small difference that could cost the condo owners more than half a million dollars a year for flood insurance.
Three engineers told owner Larry Wireman there was no way the flood map qualified for a change, not on this stretch of the Gulf of Mexico, not in a hurricane-prone community where dozens of buildings were destroyed by the most recent of many storms to blow through the area. "There's no way in hell that's going to happen," one of those engineers, Vince Lucido, said he was told by a firm specializing in coastal engineering.
But a fourth company saw it differently, persuading the Federal Emergency Management Agency to move the line on its flood maps. Turquoise Place Tower I, which had been in the highest-risk flood zone, was now in a low-
risk zone, where flood insurance was optional.
"It smelled pretty bad to me," said Lucido, the developer's engineer. "It was too easy."
The condo owners still have insurance through the national flood program, because they buy it voluntarily. But now they pay a much lower annual premium. The building has all the finest amenities, with hot tubs on the 400 balconies that ring the curved towers like striations on a conch shell. The owners have saved more than 90 percent on the premiums they pay into the National Flood Insurance Program, meaning less money to cover losses nationwide.
For the full article and details on the properties, see investigations.nbcnews.com.