GONZALES — Ascension Parish's east bank drainage authority agreed Monday to eliminate most home buyouts from the parish's hazard mitigation program.

Instead, homeowners who have suffered through several floods and filed insurance claims will have to pursue home elevations if they want funding through the parish program.

Bill Roux, Ascension's public works director, said it's more beneficial to the parish to have properties remain occupied with taxpayers rather than have vacant land left after home demolitions that become a perpetual responsibility of the government.

He added pursuing only elevations also relieves the parish of the contracting responsibility it has with home demolitions. Home elevations, in which companies raise existing homes above key high-risk flood levels, are contracted through the homeowner.

The shift came as the East Ascension Gravity Drainage District Board of Commissioners continued to sort out their post-2016 flood response, voting to back a tentative list of major drainage projects costing $111.3 million over the next five years.

The projects, which include new ones and those already years in the pipeline, would be funded primarily with parish tax dollars collected in eastern Ascension and a $33 million allocation in federal hazard mitigation money following last year’s flood. Among the projects are improving and extending the parish’s protection levee, and upgrading the pumping system in Sorrento and the levee around the critical Marvin J. Braud Pumping Station in McElroy Swamp.

The decision on elevations would affect around 200 households on Ascension’s severe, repetitive loss list, as parish officials seek an additional pot of hazard mitigation money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. That money, which is nationally competitive, would require a smaller match from homeowners.

FEMA says homes qualify as a severe repetitive loss if they have had at least two flood insurance claims where the combined value of the payments exceeds the value of the home, or if the home has received four or more separate payments worth more than $5,000 each.

Previously, the East Ascension drainage board participated in home buyouts; however, under the past administration, then-Parish President Tommy Martinez sometimes complained about grass-cutting and other maintenance responsibilities for the vacant, post-buyout properties.

Under questioning Monday from the drainage board, which is made of the 10 Parish Council members who represent parts of East Ascension, Roux said the decision would not affect larger-scale home buyout efforts that might involve whole neighborhoods or whole sections of them.

He pointed to the buyout being contemplated in the city of Gonzales in the Silverleaf neighborhood where city officials are trying to convince homeowners to participate after a series of floods in the area.

Roux said buyouts and demolition of larger areas like that would allow the parish to create new storm water detention areas, which could be used to mitigate flooding.

Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee also questioned whether limiting the parish to one option — elevation — is the “wisest decision” or if doing so could end up hindering homeowners’ ability to access the funding.

Martha Collins, Ascension’s grants officer, said that of the 200 people on the parish’s severe repetitive loss list, about 70 homeowners have expressed an interest in elevation fund and about 40 of those have filled out the necessary paperwork.

Roux and Collins pointed out that homeowners will have to qualify first based on their loss history. The decision Monday, Roux added, is aimed at pushing homeowners who do qualify and normally would have the option for a home elevation or a demolition and home buyout to choose a home elevation.

“We’re trying to force most of them to choose the raising of homes in lieu of the easy … a lot of times the easiest way is, ‘OK, just pay me, and let me get out of here,’” Roux told Satterlee.

With four commissioners absent, board voted, 6-0, to limit the parish hazard mitigation program to home elevations only, in most cases. Council members Teri Casso, Randy Clouatre, Todd Lambert and Travis Turner were absent.  

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.