Local governments in the Baton Rouge area will decide whether those displaced by the August floods can set up FEMA mobile homes in low-lying areas, even though the agency's "general rule" is that trailers are prohibited there.
Mark Lujan, a mitigation expert for the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the southern region, said local governments can issue waivers and permit the new U.S. Housing and Urban Development-approved mobile homes within the 100-year floodplain.
"There have been instances where there have been waivers, but that is up to them," Lujan said.
The possibility of a temporary waiver means residents would have the option of living in a mobile home close to where they're rebuilding.
The waiver option described by Lujan considerably softens what some Ascension Parish officials said they were told when they asked FEMA officials last week about locating FEMA mobile homes in the parish.
Firefighters and police officers whose homes were made uninhabitable by the floods that deva…
Ascension Parish Council Chairman Randy Clouatre began raising questions about what he said was presented to him as a "black and white" policy that no FEMA mobile homes would be allowed within the 100-year floodplain.
Clouatre said he learned about the policy after he began asking FEMA officials Tuesday about housing options for his constituents in St. Amant, which was heavily hit by flooding in the Amite River Basin.
"When I asked about housing, they said we could not put housing in the floodplain. Well, I told them that's not feasible," said Clouatre, who learned about the waiver option over the weekend from a reporter.
Current estimates are that between 16,000 and 19,000 homes and businesses were flooded to some extent in Ascension Parish. Alberto Pillot, a FEMA spokesman, said 10,213 parish residents had registered for FEMA disaster assistance through Friday.
The FEMA policy at issue is designed to prevent displaced people from being relocated into harm's way again in a mobile home, agency officials have said. Structures within the 100-year floodplain are required to have flood insurance and are generally deemed to be at greater risk of flooding than higher areas outside the 100-year floodplain.
The so-called 100-year flood, which has a 1-percent chance of occurring in a given year, was chosen as a compromise threshold for the federal flood insurance requirement, according to an online FEMA primer about the National Flood Insurance Program. The 100-year flood is often referred to as the "base flood."
But hard and fast adherence to the prohibition on FEMA mobile homes in the 100-year floodplain, plus Ascension Parish's generally low topography and limited trailer park options, could mean many of Clouatre's constituents would be living in FEMA mobile homes well away from their homes while restoration is underway.
"Every rule they got, they're trying to put our people outside the parish. It just ... it don't work," said Clouatre, whose own home was flooded to nearly the roof line.
According to parish estimates 55 percent of the parish's more populated east bank is in the 100-year floodplain.
On Thursday, officials opened the doors to the media to tour a FEMA-issued manufactured hous…
While many parts of Prairieville, some parts of Gonzales and areas along the Mississippi River in East Ascension Parish are higher than the 100-year floodplain, Clouatre said the vast majority of his St. Amant-area council district is inside the 100-year floodplain.
In addition, he said, most of the parish's existing trailer parks are within the 100-year floodplain.
Meanwhile, unlike the old travel trailers that were a familiar sight after Hurricane Katrina, the new HUD-approved mobile homes are much larger structures that likely will not fit in the front yard of an average home in a subdivision.
Mike Steele, spokesman for the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said the state is looking for sites to place the mobile homes, but FEMA officials said they are no longer in the business of helping private landowners build new trailer parks. The agency did that after Hurricane Katrina a decade ago amid much controversy.
State officials have high hopes the Shelter at Home Program, a joint state-federal effort, will keep people in many of the 160,000 homes damaged statewide by the catastrophic flooding. The program is expected to send an army of contractors to restore damaged homes to livable status.
But the program is limited to homes needing minor repairs worth up to $15,000 and generally cannot be used in homes that received more than two feet of water, suggesting that homes in the heavily flooded St. Amant area may not be eligible.
Lujan did say that parish government floodplain administrators will have to document for FEMA why the mobile homes are being allowed in the 100-year floodplain. He said the lack of readily available land outside the 100-year floodplain would be one reason to cite.
"Even though FEMA administers the National Flood Insurance Program, this is a community-based program," Lujan said. "They enforce the floodplain management regulations. This is their program."
Lujan said the waivers must be reviewed on an individual basis and cannot be offered on a permanent basis.
"One-hundred-and-eighty days is normally the max," Lujan said.
Those eligible to apply for a mobile home include renters who lost their homes and homeowners who had more than $17,000 in damage.
"It's good news," Clouatre said of the waiver option. "It's good news if there is a way. I would have figured there was. They put 10,000 of them down in New Orleans, so there's got to be something."