West Bank residents speak out against parish spending, ask for help
By Kyle Barnett - Apr 11, 2013
With representatives of Sen. David Vitter and Congressman Bill Cassidy in attendance, several West Bank residents voiced impassioned pleas for help Monday night at the St. Charles Parish Council meeting amid fears of plunging property values due to grossly increased flood insurance rates related to new federal regulations and a re-mapping of flood zones by FEMA.
Bayou Gauche resident David Wedge spoke out numerous times against spending resolutions passed by the council, saying that those funds should instead be dedicated to hastening the construction of the West Bank hurricane protection levee.
Wedge was particularly displeased with an ordinance for permit for a new parks and recreation equipment building in Luling that will cost over $600,000 if constructed.
"We’ve gotten fat in this parish–$600,000, that is a lot of dirt that could be used to build our levee," he said.
The council passed that ordinance 9-0 as well as two other ordinances he spoke against, but Wedge was able to claim one victory on the night when Councilman Larry Cochran asked the council to table an ordinance that would have added revenues related to the airport expansion agreement to the parish’s general fund.
Later on in the evening, other West Bank residents officially addressed the council on various matters related to flood protection and the potential of rising insurance rates.
Bayou Gauche resident Telesia Batte raised questions about how schools and businesses would survive in the Sunset Drainage District if the residents are forced out.
"When these flood maps go through I am going to be a negative 8 feet below the flood map standard. What is that, $20,000 per year? How am I going to afford that?" she said. "I am just asking this council for help in Bayou Gauche because it seems like we are the forgotten."
Bayou Gauche resident David Chatham spoke about a meeting he and other area residents convened at the Bayou Gauche Fire Station last week.
"I anticipated we would have a handful of people there and it turned out to be full capacity. The gist of the meeting was that I could find other people that are interested in trying to rebut the D-FIRMs (Digital Flood Insurance Rate Maps) that were submitted," he said.
With the help of Cathy Porthouse, who also spoke at the meeting, Chatham has put together a website (www.stcharlesflood.com) for residents who may be affected.
"It’s pretty simple and pretty straightforward," he said. "Our intent is to accumulate as much information to share with the residents because we all intend to get involved in the fight."
Paradis resident Nicole Dufrene recounted her meeting with a FEMA flood insurance specialist and said that FEMA’s position that the re-mapping was based on probability for flooding was false.
"There is no history of Paradis flooding. So why do we have these enormous rates? He was telling me my insurance rate is going to increase by 1,000 percent, which outrageous," she said.
Dufrene teared up when she mentioned she operates two businesses in the area, volunteers in the community and has children who attend area schools.
"What happens if I can’t pay that? Then I am going to have to move. I am going to have to go," she said. "Please think about it. Have our folks write our congress about the Biggert-Waters Act. We are going to have to repeal that. But think about this mapping situation before you agree to it because it has a lot of effects on a lot of our people. We are known as a ‘parish of plenty,’ but if you accept this we’ll be a parish of few."
Earl Matherne, St. Charles Parish’s coastal zone manager, made a presentation on the potential effects of the flood maps and what steps the parish can make to preserve the communities most affected.
Matherne broke down the problems the parish is facing into two parts – the new flood maps as proposed by FEMA that will increase elevation standards throughout for many structures in the parish and the effects of the Biggert-Waters Act, which will require flood insurance rates to increase by an estimated 249 percent parish wide, increase the flood insurance rates on at least 13,632 structures throughout that the parish and disallow the grandfathering practice that allows insurance subsidies for existing structures when a re-mapping takes place.
"The main thing I want to distinguish right now is that we have two separate issues and because we have a preliminary D-FIRM now they are getting mixed up. They both have issues that need to be addressed, but we have to address them separately," Matherne said.
In response to the FEMA re-mapping, Matherne said at least one possibility would be for the parish to seclude those in areas protected by levees that are no longer recognized by FEMA, such as the Sunset Drainage District and the Mimosa Parks area in Luling.
For the Biggert-Waters Act, Matherne said the only way to protect resident from negative effects of the legislation is through congressional action.
In the meantime, Matherne urged residents not to panic.
"Even under the worst case scenario if we buried our head under a rock and didn’t do anything this wouldn’t be fully implemented for 5 or 6 years," he said. "I’m not saying we shouldn’t do anything, but it does give us some time to fight the numbers we’ve seen come out of FEMA and other places."
The council also passed an ordinance to contract Dr. Joseph Suhayda, who has challenged flood maps imposed on nearby parishes, to help the parish refute parts of the proposed maps.
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