In the future, new houses in Baton Rouge may need to be built higher, new neighborhoods could face additional drainage requirements, and construction of all types might have to allocate more green spaces.
The Metro Council on Wednesday directed planning staff to review the city-parish's floodplain ordinance and think of ways to encourage building projects designed to keep residents dry in a storm.
"These are issues we need to grapple with. … I pretty much think everything is on the table here," said Planning Director Frank Duke.
East Baton Rouge needs to work with engineers to develop more-stringent policies and to update the floodplain construction rules in the Unified Development Code, said Councilman Buddy Amoroso, who requested the review.
A decade ago, there was less construction in flood zones, but now developers want to build in potentially dangerous areas, and the code hasn't kept up with the possibly perilous development. Officials need to make sure such construction is safe, Amoroso said.
"We want to do it right. You don't want to put a Band-Aid on something that's a major problem," he continued.
Also, the council again agreed to budget more money to pay for debris removal and damage to city-parish property from last summer's flood. The cost has risen to $69.5 million, though the federal government is expected to pay 90 percent of those expenses and has already reimbursed the city-parish about $40 million, said Assistant Finance Director Linda Hunt.
The new bills include about $1.5 million for additional debris removal and another $2.5 million for sewer repairs such as fixing the 65 pump stations that went underwater and replacing flooded generators, Hunt said.
Duke said East Baton Rouge can consider a variety of possible code changes. He specifically noted that when he worked in Norfolk, Virginia, a few years ago, the community decided to protect against floods by requiring buildings be constructed 3 feet above the base flood elevation. Norfolk had previously required only 1 foot of elevation, which is Baton Rouge's current standard.
Baton Rouge also currently has no limits on the amount of "impervious surfaces" on a given property, Duke noted. Impervious surfaces include building footprints, parking lots and other land where water can't drain and sloshes off.
The city-parish may consider taking steps to require more green spaces where water can soak into the ground during a storm. It may also look at ways to hold more water on large developments, such as higher standards for retention ponds, the planning director continued.
The council unanimously and with little discussion asked Duke's office and the Department of Development to study the matter and return with suggestions. Duke said he was not sure how long the review would take.
The Metro Council also gave the Mayor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness the go-ahead to apply for federal flood mitigation money. There's a quarter-billion dollars up for grabs nationwide.
MOHSEP Director Clay Rives said the money could go to help property owners elevate their buildings or to allow the city-parish to buy out properties so they can be reverted to spillway. Now that the council has waved him through, Rives said he would prepare a proposal.
The grants, administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, are not related to the flood or any other disaster, so East Baton Rouge will be competing with other municipalities for a slice of the funding. The federal grants cover 75 percent of the cost of any projects that are accepted.
Over a lunch of fish and grits Thursday, Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome addressed thre…