Flood insurance under review in La.

Federal officials overseeing the National Flood Insurance Program are touring southern Louisiana and meeting with local officials on Thursday over ongoing concerns about skyrocketing premium rate hikes and allegedly faulty federal flood maps.

While members of the Louisiana congressional delegation are seeking fixes in Congress, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is adopting new “levee analysis and mapping procedures,” called LAMP, to account for more non-accredited, flood-protection structures beyond FEMA’s previous all-or-nothing approach of only counting 100-year flood protection systems.

FEMA Associate Administrator David Miller, who oversees NFIP, is visiting to meet with Louisiana officials and to see many of the affected areas. The new LAMP pilot program will include St. Charles, St. Tammany, Terrebonne, Lafourche and Plaquemines parishes, but it excludes Jefferson, Orleans and St. Bernard parishes. Much, but not all, of those excluded parishes are already in the upgraded flood protection system for the New Orleans area.

Senior FEMA officials contend those three parishes would not benefit much through LAMP, although the comment and appeals process is ongoing for the preliminary maps in those parishes and that adjustments can be made.

The LAMP program offers more a “more highly interactive, stakeholder-engaged process” that will lead to more “robust” and “modernized” mapping, according to FEMA.

Still, people like Jefferson Parish President John Young are gravely concerned about the impacts on homeowners, business and the “working (Gulf) Coast.” FEMA must improve its mapping and make more administrative fixes, Young said, while the congressional delegation works on long-term fixes.

“It’s going to destroy the real estate market and also the banking industry,” Young said, as working-class coastal residents are forced from their homes unless changes are made because of the costs. Louisiana is not like the Alabama and Florida coasts that are mostly “high-rise condos and vacation homes.”

Young specifically pointed to the Jean Lafitte, Barataria, Crown Point and Grand Isle communities that could be permanently devastated by insurance hikes because they fall outside of the flood protection system.

Young did say though that Miller has agreed to visit some of those areas this week.

The overall problem began last year with the reauthorization of the NFIP, which includes rate hikes of up to 25 percent a year on non-primary residences, businesses and homes that have flooded multiple times.

Primary residences currently receiving subsidized “grandfathered” rates are not affected until the home is sold or the policy lapses, although some “grandfathered” status are being phased out. “Grandfathered” properties were built before the NFIP started in 1968 and the term also applies to properties that have seen their flood risks increase over the years.

Young and other parish presidents in south Louisiana, however, contend that the law makes thousands of “grandfathered” homes unsellable and that FEMA is underestimating the impact of the change.

FEMA has countered that more than 400,000 of Louisiana’s nearly 500,000 flood insurance policies would not be affected because their flood insurance rates are already appropriately set.

The program has been in financial distress with a loss of more than $20 billion, largely due to payments made after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

Legislatively, a measure to delay by one year increases in flood insurance premiums for many “grandfathered” south Louisiana properties has passed the House and, in another spending bill, has cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee.