Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Opposition to FEMA's Plan to Redraw Flood Plain Maps


 

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Delta Grassroots Caucus

July 27, 2010

 

The Delta Grassroots Caucus opposes the efforts of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to redraw the flood plain maps across the Greater Mississippi River Delta region in such a way as to unjustifiably increase flood insurance costs. We applaud the excellent efforts by Congressional delegations from the eight-state Delta region from Louisiana to southern Missouri and southern Illinois on this vital issue.

 

Senators Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln (AR), Reps. Marion Berry and Mike Ross (AR), Senator Thad Cochran, Rep. Bennie Thompson, Rep. Travis Childers and others from Mississippi, the Louisiana delegation, Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (MO), as well as Members from the other Delta states have expressed serious concerns about FEMA's plans to redraw the flood plain maps. The US House of Representatives has passed legislation that would delay the new and much more severe federal flood insurance requirements, but the going has been slower in the Senate.

 

Senator Mark Pryor, Senator Thad Cochran and others have expressed concern that the new maps will not give an accurate picture of the real risk of flooding, because the new maps are drawn up by FEMA, which also runs the federal flood insurance program that is heavily in debt.

 

This is one of the key issues the Delta Caucus will focus on at our Sept. 21-23 conference in Washington, DC, where we will meet with Obama administration officials and Members of Congress, nationally recognized disaster relief expert Kay Goss, former associate director of FEMA in the Clinton administration, James Lee Witt & Associates and others. For registration and schedule see the website at www.mdgc.us 

 

In the view of many people in the Delta, there is a conflict of interest in having the same agency that sells the flood insurance also draw up the new flood plain maps. Experts have estimated that the remapping will cause 125,000 people in Arkansas alone to buy flood insurance for the first time. An annual premium for a house valued at $50,000 would be $700, and up to $2,500 for a $250,000 house.

 

Senator Pryor and Senator Cochran have been blocked twice in getting their legislation to delay the new flood insurance requirements to the Senate floor. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette quoted Sen. Pryor as saying that they will probably not be able to bring it to the Senate floor before the August recess, scheduled to begin on August 6 and to reconvene on Sept. 13. Senators Pryor and Cochran are to be commended for their tireless work on this, and for those in other states please contact your Congressional delegation and ask them to support this legislation.

 

The legislation would require FEMA to take into account existing levee systems when designating flood zones and to establish an independent arbitration panel to decide disputes.

 

FEMA Director Craig Fugate has received sharp criticism on this issue. This year the agency revised maps for areas it alleged are vulnerable to a 100-year flood--one that is so huge that only a one percent possibility exists that it would take place each year. For those areas, businesses and residents who buy or improve land with federally supported loans or who wish to get federal aid in case of a flood will have to buy flood insurance. They can either buy it from FEMA or private insurance, but the latter alternative can be much more expensive.

 

Congressman Marion Berry is one of the key leaders on this issue in the House of Representatives. The House legislation would postpone for five years the requirement that property owners in flood prone areas buy flood insurance, it would waive the insurance requirement for people living behind flood-protection systems such as levees, and would require FEMA to notify residents in flood-prone areas that they need insurance. Rep. Berry has been sharply critical of FEMA Director Fugate.

 

Many of our towns and counties in east Arkansas have received warning letters from FEMA that they could be suspended from the federal insurance program if they did not update their flood mitigation ordinances.

 

One of the problems is that the deadlines vary. We understand that 39 Arkansas counties are now having their maps redrawn. For other states and areas all across the Delta, please understand that this problem will be coming to your area sooner or later.

 

The result of the piecemeal and varying approach is that not all the senators and representatives in Congress may now see the urgency in dealing with this problem now. Arkansas is among the first states receiving new maps but it will affect the others sooner or later.

 

The piecemeal approach means that the opposition is not as united or vocal as it would have been if all affected areas were being warned about this at the same time. 

 

On July 23, Senator Cochran welcomed progress by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to establish an independent review process that communities can use to contest flood map disputes, although he emphasized that much more still needs to be done.

According to Sen. Cochran's office, FEMA briefed congressional offices on the parameters of its plan to create a Flood Map Scientific Resolution Panel system for communities to appeal disputed base flood elevations recommended by FEMA for proposed Flood Insurance Rate Maps.

Creation of the scientific resolution panels is based on an amendment sponsored by Cochran that would direct FEMA to apply to the flood map process an arbitration panel model inspired by one created by Congress following Hurricane Katrina to resolve disaster relief disputes with local communities.

"I appreciate this action by FEMA, but I also believe further steps can be taken to allow additional review of scientific material in order to settle flood map disputes.  The legislative proposal offered by Senator Pryor and me would provide appellant communities and FEMA additional tools for completing new flood maps.  I hope we can make progress on this front before the end of this session of Congress," Senator Cochran said in a statement.

Mississippi communities along the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, in the Delta region and throughout the state have been participating in the FEMA's flood map modernization program, and many have raised concerns about the process, according to Sen. Cochran's office.

Under the plan outlined July 23, FEMA will establish a process for communities to appeal to an independent review panel when direct FEMA-to-community consultations falter.  A five-member scientific resolution panel, three of whom would be selected by appellant communities, would be formed from a predetermined list of qualified and independent experts.  The panel would have a set timeline to review scientific and technical information submitted by communities to challenge FEMA findings.

FEMA expects to implement the scientific resolution panel process on Nov. 1.  In June, Cochran and Senator Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) introduced a series of amendments to authorize the creation of arbitration panels to resolve disputes between the Federal government and local communities. In addition to establishing panels, the legislation also addressed reimbursements to communities for successful appeals.

According to Sen. Cochran's office flood insurance, administered by FEMA, can cost homeowners from $131 to $2,647 annually depending on coverage and location.  It can cost businesses up to $5,000 annually and deter economic development in communities.

Some Members of Congress from Michigan and other areas complained that they should not have to subsidize flood-prone areas outside of their district. This is a short-sighted view, because flood-prone areas exist all over the country from California to the Delta and in many other areas. In America we are supposed to take the view that if some areas are afflicted by such disasters as Hurricane Katrina, we should all help. Katrina was a natural disaster, not a local one. 

Please express your views to Congress and to FEMA on this vital issue.

Lee Powell, director, Delta Caucus (202) 360-6347

 

Mississippi Delta Grass Roots Caucus | 5030 Purslane Place | Waldorf | MD | 20601


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