What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Monday, January 28, 2008

Officials: FEMA maps may wipe Bay off map

Much of city now in hazard zone


BAY ST. LOUIS -- A David and Goliath contest is emerging between this small bayfront city and the federal government, with local officials vowing to fight imposition of new FEMA flood-advisory standards they say will hamper future growth and perhaps slay it altogether.

City officials say FEMA flood maps that were unveiled recently place large parts of Bay St. Louis in zones whose designations will require impossible heights for new construction, and will make the cost of flood insurance beyond the reach of many homeowners.

The city already had flood maps that had been revised in the 1980s. But the new maps slated to replace them are more stringent and could impose far different circumstances. The new flood elevations were crafted by federal officials following Hurricane Katrina.

"We have to fight this at all costs. I personally think it will alter the history of Bay St. Louis," said City Councilman Doug Seal.

The maps place large portions of the city in zones designated as "special flood hazard areas" that have an annual 1 percent chance of experiencing a 100-year flood.

Along the bay front, FEMA maps show advisory base flood elevations ranging from 20 to 30 feet. In many areas off the open coast, they run as high as 27 feet. Flood elevations indicate the height above mean high tide at which construction can begin.

Mayor Eddie Favre illustrated the extent of the problem recently when local officials had a get-acquainted meeting with new U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, appointed to replace retired Sen. Trent Lott.

"The fourth block of Main Street - the middle of Bay St. Louis - is a hazard flood zone now," Favre told Wicker. Under FEMA's new advisory base flood elevations, homes will have to be constructed so high in the air that "instead of worrying about flood, we're worried about wind now," he said.

Councilman Bobby Compretta, who is also a Realtor, said he considers the flood elevations excessive, and fears they will squelch growth in the foreseeable future. "In my opinion, people are not going to rebuild," he said.

Bay St. Louis intends to appeal FEMA's flood maps, and has agreed to hire an engineering firm to assist in the effort. The city also got outside support this week when the Mississippi Municipal League held a conference in Jackson.

That group's executive committee passed a resolution asking that FEMA extend the time from three to six months for the city to review the flood-elevation maps. The resolution will now go to the Mississippi Legislature for support.

City Councilman Jim Thriffiley lobbied at the conference for support from other cities, and said state District 46 Sen. David Baria has agreed to enter the resolution into the record in the Senate.

"Hopefully, we can take the endorsement from the Legislature and use it in our fight," said Thriffiley, who called the new flood elevations "mega-bad. That's the only way I can describe it."

Seal said the FEMA elevations would essentially sink hopes for the city's newly incorporated area, which runs west to Highway 603 and north to Interstate 10. City officials had hoped to develop a sweeping retail and business corridor there to accommodate growth, generate new tax revenues and lessen dependence on income from casinos.

As things now stand, the new flood maps are throwing a long shadow over those plans.

"If we can't develop 603 and the corners of I-10 as a business corridor, it would have a devastating effect on Bay St. Louis," Seal said.

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