Residents call for less red tape in the wake of Hurricane IsaacOct 16th, 2012 | By Jessica Gonzalez | Category: top story
Residents from Braithwaite, Ironton, West Pointe-a-la-Hache and Grand Bayou came together and packed the temporary courthouse in Belle Chasse on October 11 with the same message for the PPC: help us.
FEMA hotel vouchers Since Hurricane Isaac swamped their homes almost two months ago, many have been using FEMA hotel vouchers and staying outside of
Plaquemines Parish until they know what their next step is.
But around Wednesday last week, voucher recipients were notified that they would have to be out of their hotels by the following Monday.
“Everyone is going through this storm differently,” said Braithwaite resident Glenn Carpenter emotionally. “Come Sunday, my family and I are going to have to live on the street—I want to go back home, I love Plaquemines Parish.”
Similarly situated residents pleaded with the administration to call upon the state and ask for an extension on the vouchers, especially since many have no habitable structure to return to.
“We need through the state, to issue an extension…Nungesser has the ear of Governor Jindal, we all know that, and GOSEP works for Governor Jindal,” said Councilman Burghart Turner. “The state can make the recommendations, the state can do an extension. They do it for contractors with debris, and they’re not going to do it for individual assistance—that’s a problem.”
About midway through the meeting, Grants Administrator Benny Puckett informed the residents and council that FEMA approved his request for an extension until October 29.
Councilman Turner called for a suspension of the rules and asked the LA Disaster Task Force to recommend a FEMA pilot program where modular homes can be placed on a flood victim’s property as another option for temporary housing. The resolution passed unanimously.
Bureaucratic roadblocks Plaquemines resident Audrey Savant and others in devastated areas of the parish have criticized the slow and bureaucratic debris removal process, which is hindering many from moving on to elevating their
homes and rebuilding.
In the beginning of the meeting, Puckett explained that debris removal on private property “is not an automatic with FEMA”.
One of the complications with the parish initiating debris removal on private property is whether or not FEMA will reimburse for the costs.
Initially, they would only cover the costs if the damage was in a flooded area. But at the last PPC meeting, many councilmen expressed frustration with those regulations especially since there were areas that were not flooded and still
sustained severe wind damage.
“FEMA came back after a couple of days and did approve that [debris removal on personal property in a non-flooded area],” Puckett detailed. “There is a caveat to that, it has to be deemed as a public health or safety issue.”
If residents have debris on private property, Puckett encouraged them to sign the necessary Right of Entry form so the parish has permission to enter the property to clean it up. Forms are available on the third floor of the administration building or on the parish website.
Many residents in attendance felt that something as simple as clean-up should not have such frustrating bureaucratic roadblocks in the way.
“All we’re asking is to keep the barriers away,” pleaded Ironton resident Audrey Savant. “Remove the barriers, we just need the areas cleaned up so we can move on so we can face some of the issues that we will have to face like home elevation, and FEMA—but these little issues that the parish can handle, we’re asking you guys just to get them out of our way.”
Buyouts and home elevation
Puckett noted that the administration has been working with the state on a buyout and home elevation program. Puckett drafted the program and recently
submitted it to the state.
“Both of these programs will be using money that has been identified with the Hazards and Mitigation Grant Program, which allows the local government to use money earmarked for the parish in that fashion.”
He says that $8.5 million has been identified so far and an additional $5.5 – $ 8 million could be found to add to that.
“Obviously that is not enough to elevate or buyout everyone in the whole parish,
but it is enough to get started,” Puckett said.
The program must be approved by the state, then the parish can begin to offer them to the public. Puckett noted that he did not write income requirements into the program, but cautioned that upon their read-through the state could add that stipulation in.
According to Puckett, a buyout would offer a resident in a flooded area to get up to $150,000 in assistance. Insurance proceeds would be dedicated. Elevation program would allow residents to get up to $150,000 in funds to raise their home to a level set by FEMA’s risk assessment, in order for them to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program.
There was some confusion from both residents and councilmembers alike on whose elevation requirements were the ones to follow— the parish’s or
Puckett said that if the parish does not adopt FEMA’s recommended elevation levels by 2014, then they will not be able to participate in the NFIP.
“FEMA will not provide any assistance unless you’re meeting FEMA based elevations, but that’s not a parish requirement,” explained Councilman Turner.
“A resident can get a permit to rebuild at the lower level. It’s a private business as far the insurance companies… if they’re willing to risk giving you insurance at whatever elevation the parish has set, then that’s on them.”
Eastbank resident David Morgan offered insight from his personal research on the home elevation issue, and expressed frustration with finding a consistent answer on how high he and other residents need to build to.
“I’ve been on three different websites and gotten three different answers,” Morgan said. “In 2014, the new federal flood maps come into effect; if you have flood insurance and you flooded twice, you’re allowed one more flood until you have to elevate, they give you three floods and you’re out—you can’t get insurance until you elevate.”
But many are still in the dark about which level to build to, the base flood advisory set by FEMA or the parish’s required level.
Director of Operations Scott Lott explained that the permits department goes by the elevations required by the parish.
“Since Katrina it’s come in front of the administration and council on several occasions, to either adopt it at the time [federal base flood advisory] or prolong it, so that’s why the only thing they can give you is what’s on the records at this
Lott further added that if the parish does not accept the FEMA’s elevation requirements in 2014, then the federal government may choose not to write insurance policies in Plaquemines
In 2008, the parish council did not approve the FEMA’s elevation guidelines in order for the most residents to rebuild affordably.
“Right now, some can choose to build to the advisory or build to parish code,”
explained Councilman Turner. “Nearly every home that exists today in my area [District 6] is a new home; they would’ve had to go up 12 or 13 feet, and they didn’t have the money to do it, so the practical thing to do at that time was for the parish not to accept the advisory base flood elevation.”
Turner continued that it was the permits office responsibility to notify people what the federal recommendation was, so those that could rebuild to meet those requirements were able to.
Councilchair Byron Marinovich encouraged residents to visit or call the permits office to inquire about what the required base elevation level was for rebuilding, as every area has different requirements.
“And if you can’t find the information you need, please call one of us and we’ll try to get those answers for you,that’s what we’re here for,” Marinovich