Legislators vow to help parish fight huge insurance increases
St. Pierre says FEMA admits to quoting wrong rates to residents
By Kyle Barnett - May 16, 2013
Parish President V.J. St. Pierre, along with eight other parish presidents and representatives from five other parishes, visited Washington, D.C. to talk to officials about the potential spike in local flood insurance premiums should large portions of the Biggert-Waters Act be allowed to take effect in October.
As it currently stands, the Biggert-Waters Act could lead to large flood insurance premium increases by disallowing the grandfathering of insurance policies on homes that were placed above base flood elevation at the time of their construction. Homes in the communities of Luling, Boutte, Paradis, Bayou Gauche and Des Allemands that would be below base flood elevation under new FEMA flood maps would be the most affected in the parish. Homeowners in those areas could end up paying thousands to tens of thousands of dollars for insurance that now only costs them a few hundred dollars.
During their trip, the delegation met with each Congressman and U.S. Senator representing Louisiana, as well as FEMA representatives, the Senate Finance Committee and the act’s co-author, Rep. Maxine Waters (D–California).
"It was the most frustrating few days of my life," St. Charles Parish V.J. St. Pierre said.
St. Pierre said most of the people he spoke to conceded that they knew insurance rates would increase, but thought they would only go up a few hundred dollars or a few thousand dollars at most. He said few of the people they spoke to knew of the concerns coastal communities, such as St. Charles Parish, have about huge increases in insurance premiums.
"Everybody who went to a different organization got a different story. So that kind of shows you that nobody is on the same page up there and that is really going to help us because they now know what we are facing and what the reality is," St. Pierre said. "To let homeowners pay $28,000 a year, that isn’t going to happen. If that happens, we can turn out all the lights in St. Charles Parish and move somewhere else. I don’t think it is going to happen."
All of Louisiana’s Congressmen and U.S. Senators voted for the passage of the Biggert-Waters Act last year.
"We asked them ‘how can you all vote for this?’" St. Pierre said. "They said ‘well, you know they kind of put it in with the transportation bill, it was attached to the RESTORE Act. We didn’t want to lose any of that money in the RESTORE Act.’"
Representatives told St. Pierre that when they voted for the Biggert-Waters act, there were no rates associated with the bill. Instead, they said the act authorized FEMA to reevaluate how residents pay for flood elevation rates.
For St. Charles Parish, FEMA’s reevaluation of flood insurance rates came at the same time they introduced a new flood map of the area that put many homes in flood zones when they were previously thought to be safe from flood waters.
St. Pierre said the potential rate increases - some as high as $28,000 - that were given out at the March 25 open house meeting were based on incorrect information.
"FEMA did make a mistake and quoted us the wrong rates. They did admit to that. They didn’t know what the rates were," he said.
FEMA has not released the actuarial tables they used to determine the insurance rate quotes they provided to St. Charles Parish homeowners at the open house meeting.
The new rates are set to be released on June 1, but Sen. Mary Landrieu proposed an amendment that would delay the introduction of any rate increase for at least six months until a study can be completed on the effects of their implementation. Sen. David Vitter signed onto the amendment as a co-author two days later.
However, Sen. Pat Toomey, of Pennsylvania, blocked a Senate vote on the amendment. Now, Landrieu will reintroduce the study as a stand alone bill rather than an amendment.
In a press release, Landrieu said she sent a letter to FEMA administrator Craig Fugate in July 2012 to request a plan to help residents deal with increased costs.
"I have been warning about these increases for some time and calling on FEMA to address these rate increases for nearly a year. We don’t have time to wait for FEMA – we need to stop these rate increases now," Landrieu said.
In addition, Waters released her own statement in the days following St. Pierre’s visit.
"As one of the primary authors of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act and a longtime advocate for the people of southern Louisiana, I can state that it was never the intent of Congress to impose the types of punitive and unaffordable flood insurance premiums that residents of southern Louisiana are currently facing," Waters said. "I am committed to working with my colleagues in Congress and with the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to solve this problem."
Waters visited St. Charles Parish in the early 2000s advocating for the buyout of the Diamond community in Norco that sat at the fence line of the Shell/Motiva refinery.
David Miller, the associate administrator of the Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration, also told the delegation that flood maps will be redone to recognize locally built levees.
But St. Pierre is waiting on one official to step up and help Louisiana. St. Pierre said Gov. Bobby Jindal has been silent throughout the ordeal and he called on the governor to speak out against the Biggert-Waters Act.
"One of the things we are pushing is trying to meet with the governor. We really need his help," he said. "There are business owners in this community who give donations to the governor. You need to give him a call and say ‘hey guy, we really need some help on this issue.’ It is the most important issue facing our parish right now and it is going to be like that until we change the Biggert-Waters Act."
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