Bridge City starts appeal process of FEMA flood plain maps
Bridge City council members met for an emergency meeting Saturday to have a final discussion before proceeding with plans to hire Lonnie G. Harper and Associates, of Grand Chenier, La. to represent them and file an appeal against FEMA’s flood plain maps.
The rush to enter into the contract is because of an upcoming deadline to file the appeal by Dec.24th. Once the appeal is submitted the clock stops on the initiation of the latest maps. After they receive the appeal, the federal government will review the information and meet with Lonnie G. Harper and Associates. To get a final answer could possibly take years. Until then, the rates will remain as they are now.
Bridge City is committed to paying the full amount of $85,000 for the appeal to the firm. However, they first met with local entities to see if they wanted to form a coalition to share in the costs. The representatives then went back to their local entities to take action. On board is Orange County after commissioners voted to join Bridge City in the appeal process for the unincorporated areas of the county, but not sign any contracts at this time. The West Orange city council also voted to join the effort.
In addition, according to Jerry Jones, Bridge City city manager, there was also a verbal committment from the drainage district and the Bridge City Indendent School District.
‘We are really excited about them being on board,” Jones said.
Currently, about 70 percent of Bridge City is in the flood plain which will result in much higher premiums in flood insurance rates.
The city is hopeful the engineering firm will be able to do what they did for Cameron Parish, La. Like Bridge City, Cameron Parish was presented with new flood plain maps where there was an increase in the amount of the area changed to a flood zone. Once the firm completed the appeal, it was decided they were correct and the maps were changed. Now, there is much less of the parish in the flood zone.
“We feel very confident they can get a large amount of the city removed from the flood zone,” Jones said.
To facilitate a proper evaluation, by the engineering firm of FEMAs efforts, a variety of information, including detailed input/output files and data were requested from FEMA. After reviewing the information from FEMA, it was determined by the engineering firm many areas of Cameron Parish were improperly mapped with Base Flood Elevations and flood hazard zones that are technically deficient. One of the things they looked at was the topography. It did not match other sources and some of it was out of date by decades.
In addition, they looked at the still water elevation. Some of the points listed on the model were not calibrated properly and inland water features were not modeled to actual dimensions of width and depth.
They also looked at wave heights. In their report they stated the default vegetation parameters used in the model are incorrect and do not represent actual field conditions. Field investigations during winter months and after Hurricane Ike showed the parameters to grealty exceed those included in the models.
The engineering firm also looked at mapping omissions. The area “A” in FEMAs output were mapped as “V” zones which were about 400 continuous acres in lower Cameron Parish.
As a result of their efforts, they were able to prove and correct the deficiencies in the original maps based on the new data they had collected. The new data included topographic surveys and higher resolution data sets of topography, bathymetry and vegetation. The revised flood zone shows a reduction in the Base Flood Elevations throughout the parish and a change in the many flood hazard zones.
To prepare for the appeal for Bridge City, although somewhat similiar, they will review the digitial flood insurance rate maps and determine the techinical basis for the base flood elevations shown on the maps. To do this, they will collect storm statisitics, bathymetry, topography, land cover and channel and barrier dimensions. Also, they will review the set-up of the wind, wave and surge computer models.
City officials believe winning the appeal is important because of the large amount of the city being in a flood zone. This will have a ripple efffect because it not only would increase flood insurance rates, but also, could possibly decrease property values. The combination of both could have damaging repercussions.
Although not always a determining factor, businesses wanting to locate to Bridge City, may look elsewhere rather than pay higher insurance rates.
In addition, people wanting to sell their houses may have to lower the selling price to compensate for the higher flood insurance rates.
For now, area citizens will just have to wait for the results of the appeal for the outcome.
Jerry Jones, city manager for Bridge City, looks over the new FEMA flood plain maps. The city has hired a Louisiana engineering firm to file an appeal.