Baton Rouge resident Jerry Monier has lived in his Jefferson Terrace home for about seven years and has yet to experience flooding despite living in an area designated as a flood zone.
He pays a hefty $2,600 a year in flood insurance. If Monier wanted to sell the house, the new owner could end up paying up to $7,000 a year for flood insurance as a result of changes last year to the National Flood Insurance Program.
Metro Councilmen Ryan Heck and Trae Welch said they are concerned that the changes, approved by Congress to try to make the flood insurance program more financially self-sustainable, could have huge, negative consequences for Baton Rouge homeowners.
At the local level, the city-parish can attempt to mitigate some impacts by ensuring its flood maps are updated, the council members said. They said they plan to discuss that and other options at a Metro Council meeting Wednesday.
“There are hundreds, if not thousands of people affected by this in the parish,” Heck said.
“We’re really just figuring out what our role as local government is and what solutions we can provide.”
Heck and Welch said they’d be interested in following in the city of Central’s footsteps by commissioning a parishwide study of flood zones on Federal Emergency Management Agency maps.
“Central went and was able to show where the FEMA maps were wrong and they have changed up untold amounts of people’s property value,” Welch said. “I want to make sure on a parish level that FEMA has done what they’re supposed to do.”
The changes made to the National Flood Insurance Program included phasing out the status that allowed properties built years ago to be grandfathered into the insurance system at much lower rates.
“The potential effect on resale value of homes could be significant,” Monier said. “A lot of folks see this as a coastal issue, so I don’t think a lot of people in Baton Rouge realize how many flood zones there are.”
Heck and Welch pointed to the course taken by Central, which paid $35,000 to a private engineering firm last year to study the floodplain in the Beaver Bayou area.
The firm removed the flood plain designation or reduced the level of risk for almost every house in the 40-mile area studied.
The results have to be approved by FEMA.
The changes to the NFIP could, in some scenarios, increase flood insurance rates by thousands of dollars a year.
Properties that will see immediate impacts include businesses, nonprimary residences such as a rental properties and severe repetitive loss properties — which is a property that has had $5,000 or more of flood damage at least four different times.
Primary residences in flood zones that receive the subsidized “grandfathered” rates are not affected until the home is sold or the policy lapses.
Monier said he’s concerned about the economic consequences if the cost of flood insurance increases dramatically.
“My fear is folks not being able to sell homes and they walk away from mortgages because flood insurance rates are too high,” he said. “What happens to the well established neighborhoods in Baton Rouge?”
Kyle Jones, chief of operations for the Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said many elevated homes in Baton Rouge could be spared the insurance hikes, if they are above the base flood elevation and have sought an elevation certificate from the Department of Public Works.
For example, Jones said, he owns a rent house in a flood zone. Since it’s his nonprimary residence, he would be subject to the soaring insurance hikes, except that his house is 3.2 feet about the base flood elevation.
He said many Baton Rouge properties meet this criteria but may need to request the certification from DPW.
Jones said there are only about 100 properties that are considered severe repetitive loss parishwide. But there was no available information about the total number of Baton Rouge properties that could be subject to the sharp insurance increases.
East Baton Rouge Parish property insurance increases won’t be as widespread or steep as coastal parishes like Plaquemines.
“This is not going to be doomsday for all of Baton Rouge,” Jones said. “But it could be for those people who actually are affected.”
Jeffrey Giering, hazard mitigation officer for the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said East Baton Rouge Parish flood zone maps were last updated in 2006.
He said federal grant money is sometimes available for remapping and FEMA is receptive to self-reported changes that would impact flood zones.
For example, he said, if a parish had a major drainage project that impacted flood plains that improvement could be reported to FEMA.
But Giering said a homeowner can on an individual basis get the mapping changed for a house if the homeowner obtains certification that the house is above the base flood elevation and presents it to FEMA.