St. Charles Parish formally appealing FEMA flood maps

Published 11:45 pm Friday, April 26, 2013

LAPLACE – St. Charles Parish officials announced they are moving forward with plans to formally appeal preliminary digital flood insurance rate maps recently unveiled by the Feder al Emergency Management Agency.

The new maps place approximately 9,058 structures into Special Flood Hazard Areas for the first time. Many of those structures have never flooded.

The maps also represent widespread in  creases to base flood elevations in the communities of Luling, Boutte, Paradis, Bayou Gauche and Des Allemands. Combined with the implementation of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reformation Act of 2012 and subsequent loss of policy grandfathering, the changes have created the potential for drastic premium rate increases. FEMA representatives at a March 25 open house quoted some residents’ premium rates in the thousands of dollars per year range.

On Monday, the St. Charles Parish Council unanimously voted to approve a contract with civil engineer and geomorphologist Dr. Joseph Suhayda to review the maps and identify appealable areas. The main intent will be to challenge proposed base flood elevations on the West Bank of the parish. He will facilitate the formation of the parish’s appeal using surveys and other data on existing topographical features that would have an impact on storm surge flooding events.

Suhayda will work on an hourly basis with the contract work not to exceed $42,000.

“My personal opinion is if anybody is going to be able to make this turn around so that people in our area will be able to afford their insurance rates, it is Dr. Suhyada,” St. Charles Parish President V.J. St. Pierre said at the meeting. “I want to expend every resource, every dollar we can on this appeal.”

St. Pierre went on to say the appeal could entail services from surveyors, environmental companies and additional scientists and would be completed with an all-hands-on-deck approach.

“If we are unsuccessful in getting grandfathering provisions put back in place, the only thing that will help is getting the base flood elevations lowered,” Councilman Paul Ho  gan said.

Suhayda has worked on coastal Louisiana topics since the 1980s. He is a former as  sociate professor in the Louisiana State University De  partment of Civil and Environmental Engineering and former director of the Louisiana Water Re  sources Research In  stitute.

In addition, St. Pierre will visit Washington, D.C., in early May in conjunction with GNO Inc. and 19 other coastal parish presidents to meet with the congressional delegation, FEMA representatives and National Flood In      surance Program administrators. The group will present the detrimental impacts of Biggert-Waters and request federal action to have the act amended.

The Parish Council also passed a resolution on Monday requesting that FEMA delay the start of the 90-day appeal period on the current DFIRMs until FEMA has released new insurance premium rate charts developed for the implementation of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reformation Act of 2012 and the parish has had time to evaluate effects on its citizens. The resolution notwithstanding, FEMA officials have advised the parish that the mapping process is currently on pause.

The maps, though only proposed, have already had an impact on home sales and property tax assessments in the affected areas of the West Bank.

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