Welcome to GulfCoastNews.com

FEMA Officials In Biloxi Announce Another Delay in Providing New Flood Elevation Maps
by Keith Burton - GCN  5/31/07

Homeowners, businesses and local governments on the Coast that are waiting on new flood elevation maps from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help them decide how to rebuild will have to wait until next year.

In a Thursday "brown bag" luncheon meeting, FEMA officials in Biloxi told area journalists that new elevation maps, maps that had been promised for release as long ago as last fall, will not be finished or available to be adopted until after the first of next year.

At the earliest, the maps will be available for public comment sometime late this fall.

"There has been some slippage in our schedule to release the maps," said Robert Lowe, the FEMA manager in charge of the project.

Congressman Gene Taylor, contacted by GCN expressed dismay over the delay. Taylor has been trying to speed up the mapping effort since Oct. 2005.

"Keith, this is just ridiculous that we can't get this finished," Taylor said. "There are technologies available at Stennis Space Center to get these elevations, and from anywhere on earth."

"I am appalled at how FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security continues to respond to this crisis. Communities are trying to move forward in good faith and without these maps, it is hard for them to plan," Taylor said.

Biloxi City officials were also disappointed in hearing the news of the delay.

"We are disappointed in that this is one of the leading problems for property owners hoping to rebuild their homes," said Vincent Creel, Biloxi's communications director.

While FEMA has issued advisory elevation maps, which act as a temporary solution over how high new homes and businesses should be built, Creel told GCN that the lack of a final flood elevation map has created a lot of confusion for cities and residents over what to do. Some cities on the Coast have adopted the advisory maps as the baseline for building elevations, while other cities, such as Biloxi, have not. Biloxi is using requirements that existed prior to hurricane Katrina.

Earlier this year, the Biloxi City Council adopted the FEMA advisory flood maps, then shortly thereafter, rescinded their decision. Creel says Mayor A.J. Holloway still recommends adoption of the advisory maps. But many on the council feel that the higher recommendations from the advisory maps make it too expensive for some homeowners and businesses to rebuild.

Under current rules, property owners are grandfathered-in at the elevations currently in use by the city where they live. They can also receive flood insurance as well.

However, homeowners that receive a grant from the Governor's Homeowner Grant program, must build to the advisory map recommendations as that is part of the contract homeowners in the grant program agree to in getting the grants from the state.

"This creates a problem for our code inspectors as they are dealing with two different building code requirements," Creel said.

The new flood elevation maps are also of interest to property owners near the pre-katrina flood zones that did not suffer flooding from Katrina. The final FEMA maps are expected to add more areas along the Coast to flood zones, which could detrimentally affect future regular homeowner and business insurance costs and availability, even though flood insurance from the federal government will be available.

"It is clear that the previous maps were wrong," Cole told reporters. In addition, Cole told reporters that the advisory maps are also not accurate and reflect only an initial assessment of the potential flood zones. Cole said that when the new maps are released, they will be the most technologically accurate maps ever provided.

Meanwhile, FEMA officials have created a web site for people to keep up with the status of the mapping project.

"We are pleased to provide these new resources for the residents of coastal Mississippi. People who have questions about the maps, the adoption process, or where to go for more technical information can visit the Web site or phone the call center for information or referrals," said Dennis Kizziah, acting director of FEMA's Mississippi Transitional Recovery Office, in a news release sent to GCN on Wednesday. (More Here)

The Mississippi Coastal Mapping Project Web site, www.mscoastalmapping.com, contains information on the status of the mapping effort, the National Flood Insurance Program, FEMA's flood map modernization effort, and other project-related activities. The website is scheduled to be active starting June 4.

Congressman Gene Taylor is on the Coast at this time. Taylor will be at a community meeting that is open to the public this evening beginning at 6 p.m. in the Biloxi City Council chambers.

Welcome to GulfCoastNews.com