The Federal Emergency Management Agency has announced that St. Charles Parish is one of 25 parishes/counties nationwide to be selected for a pilot project that will use a different formulation to calculate local flood risks by taking into account locally constructed levees that do not meet federal standards.
The move comes nearly four months after FEMA held a town hall meeting where some parish residents were told they would have to pay as much as $28,000 per year in flood insurance. The increase was due to newly-proposed flood maps and flood insurance increases that would take effect following the Biggert-Waters Act.
Now, the maps that were responsible for those drastic insurance numbers will be redone.
As part of the pilot program, the new flood maps and attached insurance rate increases are on an indefinite hold until all potential flood barriers receive more scrutiny to determine what protection, if any, they provide to communities.
Earl Matherne, St. Charles Parish coastal zone manager, said residents living within the Sunset Drainage District levee, which protects around 5,000 people in Des Allemands, Bayou Gauche and Paradis, are expected to get the most out of the pilot project.
"I am thinking the Sunset Drainage District is going to benefit the most from it," he said. "Having looked at LAMP (Levee Assessment Mapping Process) I don’t know if that will end with the accreditation of that levee or end with them pointing out deficiencies and telling us we need to fix them."
Although FEMA originally decided they would not recognize levees that do not meet Corps of Engineers standards, such as the Sunset Drainage District levee, the pilot project seeks to reverse that decision by looking more closely at existing levees under the LAMP assessment.
The new calculations may result in much lower flood insurance rates than previously thought.
Matherne said the pilot project will include a consortium made up of parish representatives, FEMA representatives and contractors and the Corps of Engineers who will determine the protection provided by even the smallest levees in the parish.
"We’ve got lots of levees on both the East and West Bank that are no longer counted," Matherne said. "I imagine we are going to look at all of them. There are the ones in Willowdale and Willowridge and there is a small one that goes around Ormond. Even if we determine they provide only a small amount of protection, our residents will likely see some relief in their flood insurance premiums."
Given that the parish will soon begin construction of the Willowridge levee and has contracted with coastal zone flood map expert Dr. Joseph Suhayda, their inclusion in the pilot project comes at a good time.
"It is a good time for Dr. Suhayda to be working with us. He speaks the language. We also have contractors working on levees," Matherne said. "So we have a lot of resources and it’s the right time because we are right in the middle of it."
Matherne, who lives in the Sunset Drainage District, said despite FEMA’s change of heart he is not celebrating quite yet.
"Cautious optimism is how I would describe my reaction to the pilot project," he said. "I don’t celebrate anything until I guarantee my folks are going to be able to stay in their houses and are not threatened with these outlandish insurance quotes."