Hundreds of homeowners from Louisiana's St. Charles Parish crammed into a public meeting in a local high school in mid-April, looking for answers about the future of flood insurance and levee protection in their low-lying communities, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune ("St. Charles town hall meeting on FEMA flood maps draws huge crowds eager to voice concerns," by Juliet Linderman).
Residents are upset that they're going to bear a higher cost for insurance because of being outside the federally accredited levee system. "The irony created by Biggert-Waters and unaccredited levees has a lot of people in this room angry," said St. Charles Parish Coastal Zone Manager Earl Matherne. "The federal government built accredited levees in areas of high flooding. That only makes sense; where do you build levees? In areas that flood. The areas without accredited levees are left to be most affected by Biggert-Waters. Which areas are left? The areas that don't flood so much. That's the irony."
St. Charles has a hundred-year-old levee built to protect Paradis, Bayou Gauche, and parts of Des Allemands. But FEMA doesn't recognize that structure as affecting its new flood maps, or consider it a factor in premiums paid by homeowners for flood insurance. However, as in other regions of the country, FEMA says its flood maps are still a work in progress, and may change before final versions are published.
"Right now, these maps aren't moving forward until we work everything out," FEMA Region 6 engineer Matt Dubois said. "That could be six months, it could be two years. Once we do move forward with these maps, we still need to go through a 90-day appeal. Then, there is a period of time where we have to respond to those appeals. It will take however long it needs to take. Then the parish has six months to adopt the maps. Not until this point will these maps affect your flood insurance."
But for parish residents, it's already time to freak out. One low-lying homeowner, Harriet Parrish, said her premiums were about to rise from $450 a year to $5,100. "I'm dead in the water," said Parrish. "This is the stuff heart attacks are made of. I don't want all this to be explained to me. I want to hear that this isn't going to happen to us."