County stuck between a rock and a hard place with FEMA
There was much discussion in commissioners’ court regarding a request from Henry Stevenson concerning the levee for property owned by Parkwood Land Company in the vicinity of the Neches River and I-10 bridge be grandfathered from requirements outlined in the Orange County Flood Prevention Order. The levee is over 100 years old and has been grandfathered by the Corps of Engineers. The problem is they haven’t been able to get a straight answer from FEMA as to how it would affect Orange County obtaining flood insurance. The levee predates FEMA and the flood prevention order. That plait of land was used as a staging area when the Highway 90 bridge was built in the 1950s and for the current I-10 bridge. “It’s a stone’s throw from the I-10 bridge,” said Chuck Tibler, attorney for Stevenson.
Stevenson received a letter from the Corps of Engineers in 2007 authorizing him to repair the levee, bringing it back to its original state.
“Your grandfathers and great-grandfathers, perhaps, helped build that levee,” he said. Tibler said if mechanical means were used to build the levee, it would have been a steam shovel. “No one owned a Model T, because a Model T hadn’t been built yet. That’s how long that levee has been in place.”
Erosion in some parts of the levee has brought it from its original 13 feet down to 11 feet. Mr. Stevenson wants to have the levee grandfathered as a pre-existing condition so he can repair it to its original condition, so it will have the same structural integrity it had 100 years ago.
Thirteen feet is well above the 100 year flood plan according to Tibler.
Documents show the levee was in place well before the flood plain ordinance was put in place in any of its forms.
Joel Ardion, county code and compliance, said FEMA is still saying they can’t bring fill in there. Ardoin told the court they had the authority, “however, if you don’t follow their rules, you get penalized for that.” Ardoin said flood insurance rates could go up or “worse case scenario, they could pull the plug on the program for a violation against their rules.”
Assistant County Attorney Doug Manning suggested commissioners table the matter till next week so he has a chance to study the situation. “The problem you keep having with FEMA is that we can’t get a commitment from FEMA to say yay or nay…we are between a rock and a hard place. They leave it upon us to decide whether or not to grandfather it, but then they won’t tell us whether or not that is going to effect us down the road when we have the next hurricane or whatever and homes get flooded. They’re taking a wait and see attitude.”
“I’d like to bundle the whole thing up and send it to FEMA and say here’s an opinion,” said Manning
Commissioner Precinct 4 Jody Crump asked Manning, “Hasn’t that already been done?”
Tibler said he went to FEMA to get the property taken out of the flood plain. “They could not produce to us the survey documents for our engineer to review. There are certain rules and procedures that you can have FEMA say that is not part of the flood plain, but we could not even get their data because they can’t find their own data.”
Manning said he understands Stevenson’s request and doesn’t find it unreasonable, but he couldn’t advise the court to do anything that would jeopardize the county’s eligibility to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program.
Commissioner Precinct 2 Owen Burton said, “When I first come on this court we had a Four Oaks Ranch issue with the Neches River. Four federal agencies met out there and they all fought. Our road and bridge department left because the federal government could not make a decision on who was going to do what.”