Hundreds of properties added to federal flood maps

Iberville Parish flood zone changes
Iberville Parish flood zone changes

Iberville Parish informed more than 1,100 residents and business owners late last week that their properties are now included in the parish’s designated flood zones, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s new flood elevation maps, and the agency has mandated that the parish and its six municipalities adopt the maps by Nov. 6.

The re-configured flood maps are part of Congress’ reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program, which has become a hot-button issue for the state’s congressional delegation. If the program is reauthorized, it could mean flood insurance rate hikes of 20 percent or more annually for the nearly 500,000 people in the state participating in the federally funded program.

The NFIP allows homeowners and businesses in flood zones that have trouble getting private insurance to obtain policies backed by the federal government.

However, the program has been in financial distress after the loss of more than $20 billion, largely caused by payments made after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

While Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso said he can understand FEMA’s need to better its financial standing, he said the agency’s efforts to revitalize the NFIP is too high of a cost for many of his residents to bare.

“This is really going to affect the people in our parish with limited incomes,” Ourso said. “I really feel for the people that are going to have to suffer with this.”

A majority of the properties affected by the parish’s expanded flood zones are in the bayous Pigeon and Sorrel areas.

According to a letter from FEMA dated May 6, the parish has until Nov. 6 to adopt the new flood elevation maps and regulations if it wants to continue participating in the federal insurance program.

Ourso said the parish has spent nearly $100,000 of taxpayers’ money protesting FEMA’s actions since the new flood zones were first proposed in 2008.

Private engineers working on the parish’s behalf tried to challenge FEMA’s use of the state’s Light Detection and Ranging topography to obtain elevation data that was used to map the new flood zones.

LIDAR used aerial-based technology to measure distance and elevation through the use of laser and reflected light.

“They didn’t get land based in their evaluations,” Edward “Lucky” Songy, the parish’s chief administrative officer, said about the parish’s concerns with FEMA’s findings.

FEMA also ignored the parish’s levee support system, which was put in place to stop backwater flooding in flood-prone areas, Ourso said.

“The levees didn’t mean anything to them. Even though they’re holding off water, they’re invisible to (FEMA),” Ourso said. “How can we beat the system that prints its own money? We’ve done everything we can do to prevent this from happening.”

Stephanie Moffett, a regional spokeswoman for FEMA, said in an email Friday that the parish’s appeals to FEMA lacked a “solid basis” for changes in the flood maps.

“The parish raised concerns that LIDAR was not accurate, but neither the parish nor communities provided detailed data such as ground surveys to replace the LIDAR, or a solid basis that the LIDAR topography acquisition process was handled incorrectly,” Moffett wrote.

In his letter to residents last week, Ourso said home and business owners can send a letter to FEMA if they feel their properties are above the floodplain and want a map modification for their lot.

Information for submitting the letter, called a Letter of Map Change, is listed on FEMA’s website at www.fema.gov.

Ourso is also urging residents to reach out to members of the state’s congressional delegation in Washington, D.C. The delegation recently introduced the Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2013, which seeks to delay the impending flood insurance rate hikes.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, was able to get the House to approve an amendment in the Homeland Security appropriations bill that would delay the rate hikes on “grandfathered” properties by a year.

But a similar bill, led by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., to delay the rate hikes died in the Senate last week.