Some East Baton Rouge residents will have to raise or rebuild their homes to comply with elevation requirements.
Wednesday, city-parish staff told the Metro Council they don't know how many homes will ultimately be affected. Council members passed a package of amendments to the local building codes to reduce the number of people who will have to lift or rebuild, but federal elevation requirements are still in effect.
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People who live in high-risk flood zones will have to elevate if their homes sustained damage that will cost 50 percent of the value of the structure to fix and they are not currently in compliance with elevation standards. City officials also discussed changing their ordinance soon so homes in low-risk areas would not be required to be reevaluated for elevation.
The standards also apply to new structures but, again, are expected to be enforced only in high-risk zones. Those are the ones that begin with A-prefixes. Low- and moderate-risk zones are known as X zones.
It is possible that by lowering the local standards, flood insurance rates could go up, though the changes made Wednesday will not, by themselves, push the city-parish into a worse flood insurance rating level.
Since 1989, the city-parish has enforced building codes that are stricter than those required by the federal government. The harsher rules have contributed to residents getting discounts on their flood insurance premiums, recently savings between 15 and 20 percent.
Specifically, the city-parish demanded that homes be re-evaluated for elevation when they sustained 40 percent damage. That local requirement was struck Wednesday, replaced with the federal minimum standard, which calls for a reassessment triggered at 50 percent damage.
The Metro Council also struck the requirement that homes be built a foot above the level of the highest flood event. Now people will only have to build to 1 foot above the base flood elevation, a number determined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The base flood elevation is FEMA's estimate of the height of water in the type of flood that has a 1 percent chance of occurring in a given year.
The city-parish has historically required that people in X zones follow elevation requirements. A number of parish council members remarked Wednesday they want to do away with the rule, which is not federally mandated.
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The legal language for such a change was not prepared in time for Wednesday's meeting. Council members have indicated their intent to bring the matter up in their next meeting to officially release people in low-risk zones from elevation requirements. Assuming the measure passes, only people in the high-risk areas designated by FEMA would have to follow those standards.
Residents can find out their base flood elevation using FEMA's website: msc.fema.gov/portal.
Residents can also call the city-parish permit office at (225) 389-3226 to find their homes' current elevation level.
And flood maps are also available at gis.brla.gov.
FEMA officials have said they do not intend to change their flood maps based on the recent storm because it was such a rarity.
Though federal inspectors actually assess the amount of damage, it falls on the city-parish to make sure that the 50 percent damage threshold is enforced.
If the city does not enforce federal regulations, it could lose its ability to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program, city staff warned.
The city-parish will lose some points on its flood class by adopting lower standards. However, a FEMA hazard mitigation specialist told the Metro Council that the changes enacted Wednesday are not enough to bump the city-parish into a lower category. If the city-parish were to lose too many points in other areas during its next inspection in 2017, residents' flood insurance discount would shrink from 15 percent to 10 percent.
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Some federal money will be available down the road for people who elevate or demolish buildings that have flooded repeatedly; however, the money will not be available as people decide how to move forward. The state will determine how it is doled out but has not yet decided on a procedure.