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FEMA delays flood rate release, again

By Kyle Barnett -   Jun 27, 2013

New FEMA flood insurance rates that were originally set for release on July 1 have been delayed once again, according to St. Charles Parish officials.

FEMA first indicated they would release new flood insurance rates under the Biggert-Waters Act by June 1, but that date passed and FEMA said they were shooting for a release date of mid-June. Now, parish officials say the new rates will not be released until mid-August.

Although FEMA has not yet released the new flood insurance rates, they did quote potential flood rates to residents in a late March town hall meeting where some homeowners were told they may have to pay nearly $30,000 per year.

Due to the Biggert-Waters Act, homes that were built to code and not considered flood risks at the time of their construction will no longer be grandfathered in and have to face new flood insurance rates based on current code and base flood elevation. In addition, the Biggert-Waters Act ends subsidies to homes in flood zones.

Buddy Boe, chief administrative officer for St. Charles Parish, said the continued delays are likely a good thing for homeowners who would be most negatively affected.

"We think it is a sign that there are inherent problems with the rates they released at our town hall," he said. "We think they are trying to develop a new set of rates that are more reasonable for our residents who built to code."

FEMA representatives at the town hall meeting said the rates quoted in March were scientifically accurate and took into account changes in the flood insurance calculations included in the Biggert-Waters Act. However, after a trip to Washington, D.C. to lobby against the increases and the Biggert-Waters Act in early May, Parish President V.J. St. Pierre said FEMA representatives had told him the rates given at the town hall meeting were inaccurate. Also, FEMA indicated they would now take into account existing flood protection structures, even if they did not meet Corps of Engineers code.

In another turn of events, Boe said he was more recently told by FEMA representatives that rates quoted at the meeting were actually punitive rates aimed soley at a few homeowners who did not build up to code at the time of their homeís construction and would not be applied to all properties.

"Thatís a complete 180 from what we were told at the town hall, but again that is good sign," he said. "FEMA is backtracking on their stance."

Boe said he believes FEMA is now doing what they can to keep rates as low as possible, but real change can only come through Congressional action.

"The rates are the only thing FEMA can change. Without changing the law we can affect those a little bit and the other thing we can change is the mapping while we try to change the Biggert-Waters Act legislatively," he said. "We are still hoping to fight to put grandfathering back into this because that is the only real resolution to this."

The delayed rates will come after the deadline of July 31 that St. Charles Parish Assessor Tab Troxler has to reassess property values affected by the changes.

Troxler has said he estimates an average of 60 percent devaluation of homes and 20 percent devaluation of properties in the most impacted areas.

"We are not firm in our decision to reassess property or not. We are going to look at properties to see if there are good sales," he said. "We are trying to see if the market is indeed established."

Although elected leaders and regional advocates, such as GNO Inc., are lobbying hard to repeal or significantly change Biggert-Waters, Troxler said it is the current law and he has to base his decisions on it.

"The one thing that concerns me is that Biggert-Waters is not being debated - that law has passed. That is the law of the land and the law FEMA is going under right now," he said. "Although I think everyone in Congress is doing what they can to change that act, but it is the law and I have to go under that."

Troxler said FEMA has not handled the process as well as he thinks they could have and he hopes the situation can be resolved.

"They have handled this very poorly and it has caused a lot of pain and consternation for homeowners in the area and I hope they can get some legislation to turn this around," he said. "If what they have already presented is true it is very damaging."

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