St. Charles Parish officials are moving forward with plans to formally appeal preliminary digital flood insurance rate maps (DFIRMs) recently unveiled by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The Parish Council on Monday unanimously voted to approve a contract with civil engineer and geomorphologist Dr. Joseph Suhayda to review the maps and identify appealable areas. The main intent will be to challenge proposed base flood elevations on the West Bank of the parish. He will facilitate the formation of the parish’s appeal using surveys and other data on existing topographical features that would have an impact on storm surge flooding events.
Suhayda will work on an hourly basis with the contract work not to exceed $42,000.
The new maps place approximately 9,058 structures that were previously in ‘X’ zones into Special Flood Hazard Areas for the first time. Many of those structures have never flooded.
The maps also represent widespread increases to base flood elevations in the communities of Luling, Boutte, Paradis, Bayou Gauche and Des Allemands. Combined with the implementation of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reformation Act of 2012 and subsequent loss of policy grandfathering, the changes have created the potential for drastic premium rate increases. FEMA representatives at a March 25 open house quoted some residents’ premium rates in the thousands of dollars per year.
"My personal opinion is if anybody is going to be able to make this turn around so that people in our area will be able to afford their insurance rates, it is Dr. Suhyada," St. Charles Parish President V.J. St. Pierre said at the meeting. "I want to expend every resource; every dollar we can on this appeal."
St. Pierre went on to say that the appeal could entail services from surveyors, environmental companies and additional scientists and would be completed with an all-hands-on-deck approach.
"If we are unsuccessful in getting grandfathering provisions put back in place, the only thing that will help is getting the base flood elevations lowered," Councilman Paul Hogan said.
Suhayda has worked on coastal Louisiana topics since the 1980s. He is a former associate professor in the Louisiana State University Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and former director of the Louisiana Water Resources Research Institute.
In addition, St. Pierre will visit Washington, D.C. in early May in conjunction with GNO Inc. and 19 other coastal parish presidents to meet with the congressional delegation, FEMA representatives and National Flood Insurance Program administrators. The group will present the detrimental impacts of Biggert-Waters and request federal action to have the act amended.
The Parish Council also on Monday passed a resolution requesting FEMA delay the start of the 90-day appeal period on the current DFIRMs until FEMA has released new insurance premium rate charts as developed for the implementation of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reformation Act of 2012 and the parish has had time to evaluate effects on its citizens. The resolution notwithstanding, FEMA officials have advised the parish that the mapping process is currently on ‘pause.’
The maps, though only proposed, have already had an impact on home sales and property tax assessments in the affected areas of the West Bank.