As frustrated as many homeowners have become with post-flood rebuilding, some Denham Springs residents will have to go through the permitting process twice because the initial trip turned out to be handled by the wrong people.
Denham Springs Building Official Rick Foster said at least 30 homeowners in the city had received inspections and permits from the Livingston Parish permit office, rather than from city officials, within the past few weeks. Those permits were issued "in error, with no authority and are not valid," he said.
Any construction performed under the invalid permits may be in default under city regulations, Foster said, and those homeowners must seek a valid permit from the city's planning and development office. City officials will do everything they can to expedite those requests, he said.
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DeeDee Delatte, the parish's assistant permit director, said the invalid permits were the result of the office's heavy workload after the flood and their use of out-of-town inspectors unfamiliar with the municipal boundaries.
Delatte said the parish permit staff has been swamped with applications, issuing 200-300 permits per day, working six or seven days each week since the office reopened Aug. 22.
"We have outside agencies helping us, people from Tennessee and from Baton Rouge, not from permit departments," Delatte said. "Some of them have been working our front desk on the weekends to give us time to catch up on entering our data, and some permits were issued in error by those outside entities."
Just how many invalid permits were issued and to whom is unclear. Foster asked the parish for a list of homeowners inside city limits who received parish permits, but Delatte said they cannot provide that list.
"We've been hand-writing everything and don't have a way to go back and search for those until they have all been entered in our system," she said.
The parish also cannot guarantee the errors won't recur, Delatte said.
The out-of-town inspectors discovered the problem when a Denham Springs resident told them they had no jurisdiction in an area where they were working this past week. After speaking with parish permit staff, the inspectors decided they would no longer conduct inspections at Denham Springs addresses, Delatte said.
"Is it going to happen again? Possibly," she said. "We're seeing so many applications, I just can't say that it absolutely won't happen again. But these were mistakes. We have so much of a workload here, I definitely don't need to be grabbing any from other places."
It's not clear how many of the thousands of parish permit applications have resulted in a "substantial damage" determination — meaning, the cost of repairing the home equals 50 percent or more of its pre-flood value.
Homes in special flood hazard areas that are built lower than the base flood elevation and determined to have been substantially damaged will have to be elevated, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency regulations the parish adopted in order to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program.
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Delatte said parish Building Official Chuck Vincent had found some homes to be substantially damaged, but she was unsure how many.
"I'm not quite sure on that total," Delatte said. "He (Vincent) is just running that part on his own. ... Most of them are houses on piers, not slab homes, where the foundation has been shifted and the subfloors are bad. I'm sure there's a whole lot more to come."
In Denham Springs, city inspectors have found 10 homes — among 260 for which repair permits were sought — to be substantially damaged, Foster told the City Council on Tuesday.
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Delatte said residents in the unincorporated areas of the parish who believe their homes may have been substantially damaged should call the parish permit office for an inspection.
"We'll come out and look at it and make that determination based on appraised value," she said. "Then at that point, we'll determine if you have to elevate or if you can go in and repair it."
Delatte said what may appear to a homeowner to be substantial damage could wind up falling below the 50 percent threshold.
"If the foundation is there, the outer walls are still intact and the roof is good, there may still be a lot of work to be done but it might not necessarily meet the threshold," she said.
Foster said Denham Springs officials will look at two figures to determine whether homes inside city limits have been substantially damaged: the pre-flood market value and the estimated cost of repairs. FEMA provided a list of approved sources for those figures, which is available on the city's website at www.cityofdenhamsprings.com/docs/MarketValue.pdf.
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