By MARY PEREZ
December 5, 2007
TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD
Proposed FEMA maps sit in front of Biloxi Mayor A. J. Holloway Tuesday at Biloxi City Hall. Council members didn't look at the maps since they felt there had not been good communication to explain what FEMA was proposing.
BILOXI -- Flood insurance rates on homes damaged more than 50 percent during Hurricane Katrina could skyrocket, or the homes will have to be elevated, once the new flood elevations are adopted by the Biloxi City Council.
Biloxi Community Development Director Jerry Creel said the flood zone has expanded considerably under the new FEMA maps and some areas that were outside the flood zone before Katrina now may be included, especially along Biloxi waterways. Homes that didn't meet the 1984 flood map elevations before the storm lost their grandfather status when they were damaged more than 50 percent by Katrina. The homes repaired without being elevated to the 1984 standards will now have to be raised.
Creel said he doesn't know how many homes that might be. Homes damaged less than 50 percent don't have to be elevated. Those whose homes in the flood zone were damaged more than 50 percent will need to elevate their house, or, Creel said, "When they go to apply for flood insurance they're going to be surprised." They could face flood insurance premiums of more than $6,000 a year.
Already one man came into his office with problems due to the new flood elevations. His home was repaired without a permit by volunteers while he waited to be approved for an MDA grant. The man was notified that he was eligible for a grant, but Creel said because his home wasn't raised to the Advisory Base Flood Elevations as required by the Mississippi Development Authority, his grant may have to be modified to include elevation funding "even though it's already been completely repaired." Grants of up to $30,000, which FEMA estimates it would cost to raise a home, won't be available until the city adopts the new flood elevations within the next year.
The council met Tuesday with representatives of FEMA but Councilman Bill Stallworth later said, "We learned absolutely nothing from that meeting we had today." Several councilmen asked for individual copies of the new flood elevation maps, which would cost the city $5,000 to print. Links to the maps are on the city Web site, although the files are very large and take several minutes to download.
FEMA Acting National Flood Insurance Program Supervisor Timothy Russo said the new flood elevations are generally 2 to 4 feet lower than the FEMA Advisory Base Flood Elevations created after Katrina. He thought the new elevations could be used immediately, but City Attorney Michael Collins asked him to provide the city with a specific legal opinion.
Creel said it's very important to know what elevations can be used because "every foot you go higher adds significantly to your construction cost." He suggested those building or remodeling a home check with Community Development first for exact regulations to save money.
Stallworth, who coordinates the volunteer efforts at the East Biloxi Coordination Center, knew some homes might later have to be elevated, but said they were concerned with getting people back in their homes quickly. He believes only a few of the more than 600 houses that were repaired will need to be raised.
The council asked Russo if the Dec. 12 public meeting for Harrison County can be postponed to give them time to study the maps or if additional meetings can be scheduled in East Biloxi, where most of the damage occurred, and in Woolmarket. Russo said all officials in Harrison County can meet with first federal and state officials Dec. 12 from 9 a.m. until the public open house begins at noon.
If you go
Coast residents can see the new preliminary flood maps and speak to officials at open house meetings from noon to 8 p.m.:
Dec. 11: Hancock County, Our Lady of the Gulf Parish Community Center, 228 S. Beach Blvd., Bay St. Louis.
Dec. 12: Harrison County, Mississippi Gulf Coast Coliseum, 2350 Beach Blvd., Biloxi.
Dec. 13: Jackson County, Jackson County Civic Center, 2902 Shortcut Road, Pascagoula.
Maps are available online at geology.deq.ms.gov/floodmaps. For information, call 866-816-2804 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday.
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Wednesday, December 05, 2007
By MARY PEREZ