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Gulfport Negligence Jeopardizes City's Status with National Flood Insurance Program
FEMA Officials Express Concerns over Delays in Implementation

by Keith Burton - GCN    2/1/08   Updated 2/6/08 FEMA's Response (See Below)

Affordable flood insurance is a key component of life on the Gulf Coast, but the program offered by the federal government is in jeopardy in Gulfport as a result of the city's negligence, according to documents obtained by GCN.

Gulfport's residents who need flood insurance receive a 10 percent premium discount in the costs as a result of the city's compliance with rules for the program. But the city's actions under the administration of Mayor Brent Warr and the City Council  indicate that the city is significantly not in compliance with the requirements of the federally mandated rules.

In a letter obtained by GCN, FEMA officials that are administering the program have noted discrepancies in how the city of Gulfport is handling compliance issues. The agency's concerns follow what they call  a Community Assistance Visit (CAV) conducted in October 2006, and in subsequent visits.

The letter, sent to the city Nov. 14, 2007, is meant as a communication of concern to discuss the issues with Gulfport officials. This followed  months of requests for extensions filed by the city, which were granted by FEMA.

As the months stretched out, it turns out that eventually, FEMA officials with the program had difficulty finding someone to talk to in Gulfport.

In the Nov. 14, 2007 letter, FEMA officials noted that on Nov. 2, 2007 and Nov. 6, 2007, that the agency had tried to discuss the pending letter in person with a representative of the city.

The letter reads, "Mr. Brad Loar, Mitigation Division Director, attempted to contact the city to discuss the delivery of the letter and to be clear about the Federal Emergency Management Agency's intent. Unfortunately, he was unable to complete that contact."

The letter says that as far back as Jan. 2007, FEMA had "asked the City to resolve the issues and provide a progress update..." While the city did eventually respond to portions of the concerns on May 18, 2007  many of the issues remained unresolved, which triggered the Nov. 14, 2007 letter from FEMA to the city.

FEMA officials have noted that a number of structures have received permits to build that were not in compliance with the regulations. Among the structures was the bait shop at Jones Park, some structures at the Gulfport Yacht Club built underneath the elevated new yacht club building, and some structures at the Trinity Marine development at Gulfport Lake.

"The Yacht Club, Gulfport Lake and the Bait Shop developments are high profile developments and carry significant weight in the overall effort," reads the FEMA letter. "These issues need to be addressed expeditiously and effectively."

Gulfport was to notify FEMA by Jan. 15, 2008 their responses to the issues raised in the FEMA letter.

In addition, the city's floodplain administrator Ron Jones, was tasked to oversea many of the requirements and to certify the city's compliance. But he recently resigned from Gulfport. Jones had been with the city for years, even before the Warr administration was installed in July 2005.

What is at stake could determine whether Gulfport can continue with the National Flood Insurance Program, or have its status with the program diminished and sanctions against the city applied. The city currently enjoys a Class 8 rating in the program, which provides the 10 percent reduction in premiums for residents in the program. There are over 7,000 flood insurance policies in the city, according to FEMA.

"It is imperative that Gulfport maintain a focus on this commitment to assure that we avoid the retrogression from full compliance  with the NFIP into noncompliance and associated sanctions," reads the FEMA letter.

FEMA official acknowledged that there are many difficult issues involved with the city's recovery from Katrina and that their efforts are not meant to do harm, but to insure that the city is keeping up with efforts to maintain compliance.

"As always, it is this Agency's goal to keep the City of Gulfport participating and in good standing with the National Flood Insurance Program," reads the letter.

GCN attempted to contact the FEMA officials regarding their letter. So far, they have yet to respond. GCN also contacted Gulfport City Councilman Brian Carriere via email regarding the letter. His response:

"I'm aware we received the letter. Our clerks have a copy. I do not know if the administration has replied."

Additional Information:

FEMA Response and Update to Gulfport's Delay on Flood Insurance Issues:
Filed 2/6/08

GCN sent a series of questions to FEMA to get an update on Gulfport's response. FEMA's response took some time but were received and answered. The following are GCN's questions and FEMA's responses:

1. Q. Has the city responded?
     A. FEMA has received a letter but no documentation resolving the issues that were identified during the       Community Assessment Visit (CAV).

2. Q. Has the city asked for another extension?
    A. No.

3. Q. What further steps will FEMA take with the city?
    A. FEMA is continuing to work with Gulfport officials to resolve the issues. It is in everyone’s best interest for the city of Gulfport to maintain it’s participation in the NFIP.

4. Q. Is the city in danger of losing its status regarding the National Flood Insurance Plan?
    A.  The city has had a long history of voluntary participation in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) –in fact one of the first communities in the country to participate almost immediately after Hurricane Camille. The city also voluntarily participates in the Community Rating System which provides flood insurance premium discounts to property owners who have flood insurance policies. Continued delay or inaction in resolving the issues identified by the Community Assistance Visit, as well as the new issues which were outlined in the letter of November 29, could initially lead to removal from the Community Rating System. Ultimately, a community that does not resolve deficiencies in its floodplain management program could face probation or suspension from the program. FEMA and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) hope the city will resolve the program deficiencies before it would be necessary to take any of these actions. Here is some information about how the compliance process works:

The National Flood Insurance Act of 1968 prohibits FEMA from providing flood insurance in a community unless that community adopts and enforces floodplain management regulations that meet minimum NFIP criteria. When administrative problems or potential violations are identified in a community, FEMA is committed to working with that community and providing technical assistance to help the community bring its floodplain management programs into compliance with NFIP requirements.

In those cases where the community does not take action to become compliant, FEMA provides an orderly sequence of enforcement options of varying severity. When attempts to resolve enforcement problems through community assistance or consultation have failed, the community first will lose its CRS flood insurance premium discount. The next step would be the FEMA Regional Administrator placing a community on probation. The probationary period lasts at least until all program deficiencies have been corrected and violations have been remedied to the maximum extent possible, and it may be extended for up to one year after that.

Probation has no effect on the continued availability of flood insurance; however, an additional surcharge of $50.00 will be added to the premium for each policy for a period of at least one year.  Before the probation would become effective, each policy holder would receive a letter from FEMA explaining that the community did not comply with NFIP requirements—resulting in the policyholder’s surcharge.

If the community fails to take remedial measures during the probationary period, the Regional Administrator may recommend suspension from the NFIP. A community may also be reinstated on probationary status after having been suspended. In order for a suspended community to be reinstated, they have to correct the deficiencies in their floodplain management program and correct the violations to the maximum extent possible.

More Information:

Gulfport Hears from FEMA on City's Non-Compliance with FEMA's Flood Insurance Program - GCN 2/19/08

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