Sunday’s Sun Herald completes the picture of the double-trouble flood maps with two weekend stories that illustrate the challenges facing post-Katrina coastal Mississippi and Louisiana.
Admittedly, it’s also a challenge for those of us who live inland to understand how much control the federal government has over coastal property owners and their communities – much less the eventual impact this control has on a coastal state.
Consequently, it’s important to understand the stated purpose of the flood zone maps is to set flood insurance rates, regulate development in flood plains, and let people know about the risk they face. It’s also helpful to be fluent in FEMA-speak, which I’m not, or at least be familiar with two key terms A Zone (flood hazard zone) and V Zone (high flood potential velocity zones) and forgiving of my overly simple translation.
In Louisiana, FEMA’s new maps have triggered complaints from several parishes that the elevation data put too many towns in flood zones – guaranteeing they’ll never rebuild and recover from the hurricanes of 2005 and 2008.
If you recall Sop’s post, Political tap dancing Ground Zero style the tap dancing took place in Bay St. Louis when much of that community was about to be mapped off the map, so to speak. Let’s start with the update from Bay St. Louis.
FEMA’s maps were released after federal studies that followed Hurricane Katrina. Bay St. Louis then performed its own studies that contradicted the FEMA findings in eight categories. FEMA recently responded to the appeal and acknowledged problems in four of the eight areas, Moore said.
The result: “FEMA acknowledged that they needed to make changes or update 12 individual panels” in the maps, Mayor Eddie Favre said…
FEMA’s original proposed flood maps called for about 40 percent of Bay St. Louis to fall into V Zones and another 40 percent into A Zones, Favre has said. But after the appeal, the city administration now expects A Zones to expand to 60 percent of the city, and only about 10 percent to fall into V Zones.
That could mean giant savings on flood insurance. If built in a V Zone, Moore said, a new $200,000 home with $80,000 in contents would cost more than $6,000 per year to insure. But if that same area becomes an A Zone, the insurance cost would fall by about $5,000 annually.
The city now must decide whether to press further with its appeal and seek even bigger gains, but that will be costly. Favre estimated the cost of further appeals to run as high as $100,000.
Although Waveland and Hancock County government could also benefit from the appeals, Bay St. Louis thus far has covered the costs alone.
As of Jan. 2 the city had 30 days to answer FEMA’s appeal to its response. The result, Moore said, “could be broad, sweeping change” in the city’s future growth and development.”
Switching from the focus of saving money on construction and insurance, we move to Report: Upgrading FEMA Flood Maps Would Save Lives.
FEMA is wrapping up a five-year map modernization plan that had led to digital flood maps for 92 percent of the continental U.S. population, the National Research Council said. But even after $1 billion has been spent on the effort, only 21 percent of the population has maps which meet all of FEMA’s data quality standards, said the study, which was requested by FEMA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on disaster recovery, called FEMA’s upgrade of its flood maps “welcome, but long overdue.”
“However, even with a modernized plan, FEMA may continue to fail Gulf Coast residents if the agency does not seek input from local residents,” she said in a statement provided to The Associated Press. “An important part of the process is local participation to ensure the maps are accurate and represent the true topography of the land. Knowledge of the local terrain is an essential supplement to the science used to design new flood maps.“
That bring us back to MR-GO and how the work of the Corps of Engineers has made some areas more vulnerable to flooding. In Louisiana, the result is there are communities that may be wiped off the map while, in Mississippi, the outcome may be communities with fewer residents.
Brian Martin added testimony from Congressman Gene Taylor in a comment to my post MR-GO where you think you’re going that provides some background as relevant today, if not more so, than it was when the Congressman stated his position in 2005.
One of the things that representing south Mississippi I would like to bring to your attention is that none of the plans call for growing the Louisiana coastal marshes on the Mississippi side of the Mississippi River Gulf outlet.
As someone who ran boats for the Coast Guard, as someone who actually went to high school and college in New Orleans, I am a bit more familiar with the Mississippi River Gulf outlet than most. I know that it has been under-utilized. It has also been a barrier to trying to get some fresh water on the marshes down in the St. Bernard Parish area…
And I for one, knowing that area, resent when the New York Times and others called it a wasteful project to replace the Industrial Canal locks.
Those locks are close to a hundred year old. There is a heck of a lot of barge traffic that has to wait for days to get through them. It is important to the entire commerce of the Gulf Coast that they be replaced.
But I would ask that they be replaced in a way that helps not just Louisiana, but helps get some fresh water, again, from the Mississippi River, starts rebuilding the coastal marshes south of there… I do think part of the problem that occurred, not only in Louisiana, but in Hancock County, Mississippi, is because those marshes in St. Bernard are due south of Hancock County. Had those marshes not eroded to the point they have, they quite possibly could have lessened the impact on places like Waveland and Bay St. Louis.
When erosion reduces the size of a community, it also erodes a state’s economy and may even reduce the size of the population – at which point it also threatens to erode a state’s share of federal funds and it’s representation in Congress.
Double-trouble begets the possibility of more trouble than most can comprehend – including the Constitutional protection of property rights.
Photos added per reply to Steve’s remark about the natural elevation of Bay St. Louis in comments below (the first one I took a few weeks after Katrina appx two blocks off Beach Road; I’m uncertain about the others):