FEMA has released a preliminary update to the maps that set flood insurance rates in Jefferson Parish, and the news is mostly good.
The base flood elevation — the elevation to which floodwater is anticipated to rise during a storm — was decreased for more than 60,000 properties, which could reduce insurance costs, and 40,000 properties were moved from a high-risk zone to a lower-risk one.
About 8,000 properties were moved into the high-risk zone, mostly in Harvey and River Ridge. Parish officials, however, say two federal projects already underway should improve the situation for many of those property owners before the new maps become final next year.
The new maps are a further revision to FEMA’s 2012 proposals, which parish officials protested did not properly account for the amount of water that can be stored in the parish’s drainage canals and thus potentially overstated the flood risk for some properties.
The parish will host several meetings on the issue in coming months, and property owners have 90 days to review the maps and submit any feedback or objections to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Michelle Gonzales, director of floodplain management and hazard mitigation for the parish, said the revisions paint a mostly positive portrait of Jefferson’s flood risk compared to the 1995 maps that are used today to determine insurance rates for commercial and residential properties.
The changes stem from new data on ground elevation, upgrades to drainage canals and pump stations, and the recently accredited $14.5 billion federal levee system.
That system, officially known as the Greater New Orleans Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System, is designed to protect the area against a so-called 100-year storm, or one that has a 1 percent chance of occurring in any year.
Gonzales said the 8,000 properties that are poised to move from the “X” zone and join the 4,000 already in the higher-risk “AE” zone may not have to worry because the revisions do not take into consideration two major projects that aren’t finished yet.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has the so-called “Pump to the River” project underway in Harahan, and FEMA has a $15 million subsurface drainage project in the Maplewood subdivision, both of which should be done in the first half of 2017.
Even if the maps are finalized first, “FEMA does have a process to revise the maps after they become official,” Gonzales said, though here are no estimates of how many properties might move to the lower-risk zone as a result of these projects’ completion.
In areas outside of the federal levee system, Gonzales said, there were no changes in Lafitte and Grand Isle since the 2012 update. About 1,000 of the parish’s 4,000 properties in the higher-risk “AE” zone are in the Lafitte, Barataria and Crown Point areas.
There are about 165,000 structures on 150,000 parcels of land in Jefferson Parish, and roughly 100,000 are insured through the federal flood insurance program, Gonzales said.
She said initial public response to the maps since they were released on Wednesday has been encouraging, and the parish urges anyone who doesn’t have flood insurance but is in a low-risk zone to buy it now.
“That’s definitely something we are trying to educate the public about,” Gonzales said.
“We definitely don’t want that number (of owners with flood insurance) to go down just because so many properties are moving into the lower-risk” zone, she said. “We want people to take advantage of the savings and keep themselves protected with insurance.”
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