Residents get one-on-one with FEMA at Flood Map open houseApr 1st, 2013 | By Jessica Gonzalez | Category: top story
“It looks like we’re dead meat,” said Eric Vega of Braithwaite with an stack of FEMA pamphlets and guidebooks under one arm. “We’re at 6.5 feet
right now, and they want us to go up to 23 feet. If we don’t, we’ll pay over $20,000 a year in flood insurance. Either way it’s unaffordable.”
Vega was one of the many Plaquemines Parish residents who were able to sit down with FEMA to view the parish’s new preliminary Flood Insurance
Rate Maps (pre-FIRMS). The one-on-one attention allowed homeowners to look up their specific property, which is online at www.riskmap6.com,
and see how the new maps are changing their property’s flood zone and base flood elevation.
The insurance rates Vega and other residents were quoted were only examples based on the new BFEs and what rates FEMA has on the books
now. But they were still enough to give residents a frightening sense of what they can expect to see from their agents over the next two years.
Since both of Vega’s options are unaffordable, he and his elderly parents are hoping for a move to Livingston Parish.
“I’ve lived here my whole life, but it’s too risky and too costly to stay,” he said.
“The idea was to give people a heads up,” explained FEMA public affairs officer Jackie Chandler. “It’s going to be at least a year-and-a-half until the new maps are in place, the rate increases [from the Biggert-Waters Act] will be phased in. The rates on the books [at the Open House] were an example of what it could be at full risk rate.”
The fears of many South Plaquemines property owners—flood zone changes and huge new base flood elevations— were also confirmed at the Open House.
Like many of the other homes in his Myrtle Grove neighborhood, Warren Lawrence’s is elevated, but his neighborhood’s flood zone type is changing from an A to a VE, which means a major hike in premiums.
“The rates are going to be astronomical,” said Lawrence.
Armond and Virginia Dinet live in Belle Chasse, but own a trailer in Port Sulphur. Their main residence in Belle Chasse qualifies for a Preferred Risk Policy—which ranges from $129 per year for $20,000 in building coverage and $8,000 in contents, to $412 per year for $250,000 in building and $100,000 in contents.
However they say the cost of insuring their trailer in Port Sulphur would cost more than the building itself is even worth.
“I only paid $20,000 for for the trailer, but they want me to pay $2,300 a month for insurance… it would be cheaper to buy a new trailer if a flood comes,” said Armond.
All in all, the property owners who will be the most adversely effected by the new maps are those south of the floodgate on the Westbank and the entire Eastbank.
Re-mapping and Biggert-Waters Act
The new flood insurance rate maps are only one part the flood insurance crisis the parish is up against, the other is the Biggert-Waters Act.
What many residents don’t realize is that the re-mapping and the passage of the Biggert-Waters Act are two completely separate animals that affect the same things: flood insurance premiums. Coincidentally, their changes are happening
within the same timeframe.
The Biggert-Waters Act eliminates subsidies/”grandfathered” rates, and forces
homeowners to pay actuarial rates, which are determined in large part by the parish’s effective FIRMs. An actuarial rate is an estimate of the expected value of future loss. According to FEMA only secondary homes up for policy renewal began
to see actuarial rates in January. The actuarial rates will be phased at 20 percent per year until the full flood risk is reflected.
“Changes for commercial properties and severe repetitive loss properties we could see later this year in October,” said Chandler. “It’s likely that we won’t see guidelines [for primary residences] until late 2014, maybe even 2015 but we want
people to start thinking about their full flood risk now and start planning ahead.”
The parish has not officially adopted the new FIRMs yet, and both the council and
administration have stated they have plans to appeal them.