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FEMA to Local Agencies: Adopt Advisory Flood Elevations Or Lose Millions in Recovery Funding
From: City of Biloxi   Vincent Creel    Filed 2/9/07 GCN

FEMA has notified the City of Biloxi to comply with the agency’s advisory flood elevations, which enlarge the flood zone and increase elevation requirements as much as 25 feet above sea level, or risk losing tens of millions of dollars in FEMA recovery funding.

The City Council in April 2006 passed a watered-down version of FEMA’s advisory base flood elevations, known as ABFEs, which FEMA published a month after Hurricane Katrina to update the agency’s 23-year-old flood map being used in Biloxi.

The council sidestepped FEMA’s recommendation and required that new homes constructed in flood-prone areas be elevated three feet above the existing one-foot over the so-called “base flood elevation,” or BFE, which is the probable level that flood waters may reach. The council’s measure did not enlarge the flood zone, as FEMA advised.

In its memorandum this week, FEMA amplified the need for the city to enact the advisory elevations.

“Although the ABFEs will be made available on an advisory basis for use by state and local governments in their recovery efforts in general,” the Feb. 6 memorandum states, “activities implemented under FEMA Public Assistance and Mitigation programs must comply with the data. From the date of this memorandum, the mandatory use of ABFEs for funding activities under FEMA programs will be effective for all locations where FEMA has issued ABFEs following a Presidential declaration of a major disaster.”

Mayor A.J. Holloway originally asked the council to approve the issue in February. Councilmembers tabled it twice before the scaled-back version was passed in April.

“This is an emotional and difficult issue and it’s one of the biggest ones we face.” Holloway said before the vote. “Raising the elevation is going to increase the cost of construction and may make it impossible for some homeowners to rebuild if their lots are too small.

“But with the tremendous amount of federal money our congressional delegation and our governor have been able to secure and with the outpouring of support and sympathy we’ve seen from across the country, we must be accountable. We must use this money to build back better and in way that will minimize the level of destruction we’d see in most storms. We do not want to be perpetual victims.

“To say that this will protect us from the next Katrina is not correct, but we’d certainly be better prepared the next time. Either way, it’s going to be a difficult pill to swallow.”

To read the entire FEMA memo received this week, click here. To see flood-elevation maps and hear FEMA’s methodology on setting flood elevations, click here.

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