New anti-flooding ideas urged

It’s not possible for every community in south Louisiana to be surrounded by a levee, but there are other options available to reduce the risk of flooding, according to one state group.

A new subcommittee of the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority met for the first time Wednesday to start work on moving forward to coordinate agencies and groups and educate not only leaders but also the communities about those non-levee options.

“The important part of this committee is to have sustainable communities,” said Jerome Zeringue, director of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. Zeringue, who lives in Houma in Terrebonne Parish, said his homeowner’s insurance has shot up 57 percent from last year, and that kind of increase is hitting homeowners all over the coast.

“I think this is extraordinarily important,” said John Barry, a member of the state coastal authority and vice president of Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East. He said he has been disappointed that since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, there has not been enough of a focus on finding ways to reduce flooding risks outside of levee construction.

The state master plan for coastal restoration and protection includes plans for more than $10 billion to be spent on “non-structural” options to reduce flood risks within the 50-year life of the plan.

Those voluntary options include: elevating homes and businesses, land use planning, even assistance if a community decides it wants to relocate.

Part of the subcommittee’s job is to help coordinate, educate and serve as a clearinghouse for information that will let communities know what their flood risk is and ways to minimize it.

Karim Belhadjali, CPRA project manager for the state’s 2012 master plan, said the plan estimates there is the potential for costs to reach as much as $23.4 billion a year from flood damage if no action is taken.

With the 50-year master plan in place, including the non-levee measures, that cost could be reduced to $5.5 billion, he said. However, the master plan makes that assumption based on an estimated 80 percent of the coastal population participating. To achieve that level will require education and acceptance of the plan by local communities, he said.

There will be challenges in achieving that, he said, including inconsistent enforcement of ordinances and public perception.

“Some people don’t like the look of elevated homes,” Belhadjali said.

Windell Curole, CPRA board member and general manager of the South Lafourche Levee District, said it’s time people started thinking the way south Louisiana residents did generations ago. Homes used to be elevated in anticipation of floods — even if the houses were behind levees — because people knew they lived in a delta and flooding was something they lived with, he said.

“We have to reteach ourselves what you call common sense,” Curole said.

Education should also start with young people still in school, said Craig Taffaro, hazard mitigation director with the state Department of Administration and CPRA member.

“That’s the long-term support of what we’re talking about,” Taffaro said about creating a culture of awareness of flood risk reduction. “The people who will see this 50-year plan to completion haven’t been born yet.”

Curole said there also needs to be more education for adults about the actual flood risks in the areas in which they live by developing maps that show flooding over the past couple of decades.

“Just like we have a red map (showing coastal land loss), we should have a blue map,” Curole said.

In addition, there’s the challenge of getting the numerous agencies and groups involved in flood risk reduction to coordinate their efforts. Belhadjali said the master plan team identified more than 80 agencies involved in some way.

The next subcommittee meeting will be in May or April.