Times-Picayune, News Orleans, on FEMA must get Jefferson flood maps right

From The Associated Press.

Jan. 5
Times-Picayune, News Orleans, on FEMA must get Jefferson flood maps right:
David Ponzio, who lives in the Baywood subdivision in unincorporated Gretna, owns one of the 47,000 homes and businesses in Jefferson Parish that are no longer rated high-risk for flooding by FEMA. The agency’s proposed new flood maps for the parish move his home from the AE zone to the lower-risk X designation. That should help keep his flood insurance premiums affordable.
That is good news for him and others who are benefiting from drainage and pumping upgrades made since the previous flood maps for Jefferson Parish were approved in 1995.
But the fortunes of more than 5,300 parish residents are turning in the opposite direction. FEMA’s new maps, which are pending final agency approval after a comment period, are shifting those families from low-risk zones to high-risk.
Jefferson Parish officials believe the high-risk designation is wrong for hundreds of properties and are asking FEMA to reconsider. Administrator Craig Fugate should make sure that happens.
The accuracy of these maps is vital. The zone FEMA designates for a property drives the cost of flood insurance.
That is especially important now, with premiums set to rise dramatically for tens of thousands of properties under the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012. When the new maps are finalized it will trigger the phase-out of the grandfather clause that protected owners who were in compliance from spikes in insurance rates due to remapping. That is a dire prospect.
Premiums for property owners from Galveston to Staten Island are about to skyrocket, which could leave them unable to afford the policies or unable to find a buyer who could pay the rates. That essentially would make their property worthless — and could damage entire communities.
Congress, which failed to ensure that flood premiums would be affordable under Biggert-Waters, is supposed to vote on a delay in implementing the act this month. That is the best solution to the mess that has been created.
But, either way, the flood maps need to be accurate, and Jefferson Parish officials make a persuasive case that they are not. FEMA’s methodology is flawed in some areas, they argue.
FEMA has already conceded that it erred in some communities by not considering private and locally built levees and pumps in its new maps.
Congress should approve the delay. It would give FEMA time look at ways to keep premiums affordable for average families and to get the mapping right.
As Jefferson Parish’s appeal shows, the new flood maps are far from perfect at this point.

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