New flood maps for Lafayette Parish could be in place by the end of the year, updating flood zone designations in some areas for the first time since the 1990s.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency released the first draft of the new flood maps in 2007 and has been working for eight years to address a litany of challenges by local officials.
“It’s a lot more to everyone’s benefit than we first thought,” said Jaye Hendricks, who works in flood plain management for FEMA.
The FEMA maps are used to determine flood insurance rates, to set elevation requirements for new construction in flood zones and to regulate development in areas prone to extensive flooding.
Considering the parish as a whole, there is no major tilt toward more or fewer flood zones in the proposed maps, though some zones are shifting based on up-to-date engineering studies of the parish.
“We think it is for the better for a lot of people. We definitely think the data is better,” Lafayette City-Parish Floodplain Administrator Kerwin Woodard said.
The most noticeable impact will be the amount of property designated as a floodway, which brings more stringent development guidelines than the more common flood zone designation.
Many of the appeals focused on the more restrictive floodway designation, which in the initial maps was applied in broad brushstrokes along the Vermilion River and Coulee Ile des Cannes in the Scott area.
The proposed maps still include floodway designations along those waterways, but the area has been reduced.
“The only consolation is that it would have been a lot worse if we hadn’t appealed,” said Pat Logan, a planning manager for Scott.
Logan said developers can still build on land designated as a floodway, but extra work would likely be needed to minimize flooding impacts, such as digging retention ponds and dirt work to build up the property.
“By taking it out of the floodway, you make the land more developable,” he said.
Along Coulee Ile des Cannes, challenges to the earlier maps resulted in 170 acres and 250 structures being taken out of the floodway, according to figures from engineering firm Fenstermaker, which worked on the appeals.
The proposed maps also shift about 11,000 acres out of flood zones along Ile des Cannes, according to the figures.
Logan said much of that change was tied to a major drainage project to help the coulee handle more water.
Carencro saw similar positive changes in revisions of the maps, though the city was not given credit for a large retention pond and related work to improve drainage on Coulee Beau Bassin, said Bonnie Anderson, with the Carencro planning department.
“I see a lot of improvement, but I don’t think we are going to have a perfect map that makes everybody happy,” she said.
Hendricks said the new maps might be finalized by the end of the year, and residents will have an opportunity to challenge them in the coming weeks.
Appeals by individual residents of flood maps are difficult and generally require costly engineering studies to support the challenges — something more than an anecdotal argument that a piece of property has never flooded before. Hendricks said he does not expect any major changes in the proposed maps because he believes the documents are fairly sound after years of review and tweaking based on challenges brought by local governments in the parish.
“We learned, and we cooperated,” he said.
For information on the maps and the adoption process, visit riskmap6.com.