New EPA regulation would have drastic effect on real estate market

The River Region Chamber of Commerce is being proactive about a proposed regulation that they say could have as negative affect on St. Charles Parish and surrounding areas as the Biggert-Waters Act.

The River Region Chamber was instrumental in pushing back against the Biggert-Waters Act last year after it was revealed the law would likely cause bankruptcies and business failures throughout the region due to skyrocketing flood insurance rates.  Now, the chamber has their eyes set on a newly proposed regulation that is rumored to be every bit as big as Biggert-Waters would have been.

The issue is with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent proposal to amend the definition of navigable waterways and place restrictions on building in flood plains. Randy Noel, board member and public policy committee member of the River Regions Chamber of Commerce, said the new restrictions could cost up to three times as much for those pursuing construction in areas where wetlands mitigation is needed.

Anyone seeking to build on a flood plain would also have to apply for a 404 permit and go through several layers of bureaucracy.

“It is as big as Biggert-Waters, nobody is talking about it,” Noel said.

Recent figures have put the cost of mitigating a single acre of land at more than $20,000. Noel said due to increased costs, the newly redefined regulation would have a negative effect on the entire region.

“It covers anything in a flood plain. Are we in a flood plain down here? We are all in flood plains,” Noel said. “If you have any inkling that it is going to be treated as wetlands, you are going to have to go get a 404 permit.”

In addition to construction, a 404 permit would also be needed to work on drainage ditches, canals, ponds or any other source that would be redefined as a national waterway.

“Now they have to be treated and have a 404 permit to be touched, which means for local governments every time they want to maintain a drainage ditch they have to go get a 404 permit,” he said. “That is going to delay maintaining the drainage systems, which is going to flood houses.”

The new definition is currently in a comment period, but Noel said the EPA has the ability to disregard any pushback from community members.

“The EPA can put this into effect regardless of the comments, so there is no stopping them unless we get congressional action or we have to take them to court which is a long, long action,” he said.

The River Region Chamber has garnered the early support of the National Association of Counties and GNO Inc., who will be partnering up to fight against the regulation.

In addition, Sen. Mary Landrieu addressed the issue in a letter to Gina McCarthy, administrator of the EPA.

“The negative impact on real estate development is a glaring example of the disruptive practical effects of the proposed rule. Increased permitting will cause delay for site modifications, and landlords, who often have specific time incentives built into lease agreements, may be unable to fulfill time obligations or predict certainty in those lease agreements. This would jeopardize their ability to retain and attract future tenants,” Landrieu said.

Noel said he is pleased with how quickly Landrieu has responded to the issue.

“She is on it, she understands it because I am telling you how Biggert-Waters would have shut down our real estate community, this could do the same thing. It is not on anybody’s radar. We’ve got to get the EPA to pull this rule back,” he said.

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