Flood map town hall meeting draws huge crowd to Boutte

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 17, 2013

By Kimberly Hopson

BOUTTE – Standing was the only option for residents who attended Monday night’s St. Charles Parish Town Hall meeting to discuss the situation presented by the recent debut of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s updated flood insurance rate maps.
Changes to base flood elevations and flood zones contained in the proposed maps, along with changes to the National Flood Insurance Program because of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act have created a situation that will cause flood insurance rates to increase to actuarial costs over a period of five years if the maps are adopted. Many properties are being remapped into flood zones for the first time.
FEMA will no longer recognize the Sunset Drainage District levee and other flood control measures. As such, the maps assume that these features do not exist.
“When preparing a flood risk study, FEMA maps accredited levees — levees that meet the requirements of the Code of Federal Regulations, 44 C.F.R. Section 65.10 — as providing protection against a 1-percent-annual-chance flood event.In other words, FEMA assumes that an accredited levee will prevent the flow of water from getting behind the levee during a 1-percent-annual-chance flood,” said Earl Armstrong, FEMA Region VI public information officer.
“On the other hand, levees that have not been documented by the levee system owner to meet the requirements of 44 C.F.R. Section 65.10 are depicted on the preliminary FIRM as though they do not prevent the flow of water from getting behind the levee during a 1-percent-annual-chance flood event.This means that FEMA assumes water will inundate the area behind a non-accredited levee during a 1-percent-annual-chance flood,” he said.
The Biggert-Waters Act will remove the grandfathering of flood policies for properties built after May 1983, meaning that homeowners will be paying increased premiums regardless of the fact that they built to the elevation standards in effect at the time of the construction. Severe repetetive loss pre-FIRM businesses and other high loss structures will begin to see the effects starting October 2013, while the grandfathering phase-out will not begin until October 2014.
The act will affect St. Charles Parish whether it chooses to adopt the maps or not.
The west bank of St. Charles Parish will be hit hard by these changes, with some policies reaching prices of more than $5,000 a year. FEMA introduced the maps during an open house last month that left many reeling. The same was true for the town hall meeting, where many audiences members devolved into shouting and jeers at the information being presented.
The meeting coordinators presented several options for dealing with the maps to the public.
The first option is that the parish would consider secluding areas situated behind the uncertified levees and allow time for FEMA to finish their guidance on the levees. This option would allow the maps to take effect in the rest of the parish while delaying them in the secluded areas. By using seclusion, 15 percent of residents would be able to avoid higher premiums, but only temporarily.
As a second option, the parish council may delay the flood map entirely until further study is done. The parish council may also choose to accept the flood map as-is, an unlikely option.
“The maps are officially on pause. They’re not moving forward with the flood rate maps until we can work with the parish and understand the options that were listed before,” said FEMA representative Matthew Dubois.  
In the mean time, parish officials advise the public to stay informed, to sign the ‘Stop FEMA Now’ petition online at petitions.whitehouse.gov/petitions and to contact their elected officials. Parish officials also advise citizens not to rely on just color coding when assessing the flood maps for themselves.
For more information on the issue, visit www.scpfloodmaps.com. To view the flood insurance maps, visit maps.riskmap6.com/LA/StCharles.
Look for more on the flood map situation in St. Charles Parish and Monday’s town hall meeting in Saturday’s L’Observateur.