Parish finally gets improved flood maps to set elevations

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Staff Reporter

LAPLACE – The St. John Council has voted unanimously to reject advisory base flood elevation maps from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with the hope of getting approval of updated maps used by insurance companies for flood insurance premiums.

St. John Public Information Officer Buddy Boe said that FEMA finally delivered the Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) after months of delay. He said the parish can now begin the nine-month process of designating these maps the parish’s official flood elevation reference.

“The FIRMs use research and numbers that the advisory base maps do not include,” said Boe. “The new maps will be a better guide for land owners and developers in determining what they need to do to their property.”

According to FEMA’s web site, insurance companies use the FIRMs as a standard by which they set rates when providing flood insurance throughout the United States. The FIRMs resemble topographic maps in that they display where the flood plain lies and determine the base flood elevations for buildings in the plain. New construction must be built to the elevations provided for in the FIRM.

Boe said that the parish faces no penalty in rejecting the advisory base flood elevation maps other than the lost opportunity to apply for a pair of grants that the parish was looking into. The council agreed it was a legitimate risk to take because the new maps do a better job of determining what parts of the parish are more prone to flood.

“The advisory maps were estimates of what could happen,” said Division B Councilman-at-Large Steve Lee. “They are not based on science, facts, or anything else. Approving those maps would have done a disservice to property owners in St. John. I am glad we waited for the FIRMs to be completed.”

Now that the parish has the FIRMs in its possession, the next step is to hold a town hall meeting to allow the community to survey the maps and provide input.

“We are looking at a date sometime in September,” said Boe. “We will have computers set up so that anyone can have the opportunity to look at their specific property in relation to the map. Representatives from FEMA will be on hand to explain the maps and answer questions.”

Once the public meeting is held, Boe said the parish will enter into an “appeals and Protest” period where residents and property owners can file appeals to the maps. He said anyone who wishes to ask for changes would have 90 days to formally file with FEMA. When the appeals are in, FEMA will then issue a “Letter of Determination,” which will give the parish six months to formally adopt the FIRMs as the guide for flood elevations.

Boe said the timelines are relatively flexible, and estimated that the entire process would take about a year to complete.

According to FEMA, the federal government began the process of updating the current FIRMs in 2004, but the onset of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita slowed the process down. Before that time, the FIRMs had not been altered since 1983.

In rejecting the base flood elevation maps, the council kept the position it had in 2006, when the maps were first up for adoption. The advisory base maps were met with strong criticism from developers in St. John because the maps were riddled with inconsistencies.