The Metro Council on Wednesday made perhaps the most sweeping change to its flood ordinance yet, meaning many people now won't have to worry about whether the government will make them elevate or demolish their homes.
According to the latest numbers from the city-parish, more than half the households that flooded — some 32,000 households — are in areas variously described as X zones, low-and moderate-risk zones and non-special hazard zones. The practical difference is that those people are not required by their mortgage companies to buy flood insurance, as the people in high-risk zones are.
In East Baton Rouge, half the homes inundated in the recent storms aren't in areas where flo…
Wednesday, the Metro Council voted to exempt existing buildings in low- and moderate-risk flood zones from elevation requirements.
"That's a big deal," said Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe.
City staff said Wednesday they aren't sure how many of the more than 32,000 homes now relieved of elevation requirements would have actually reached the threshold that would have required they raise or wreck their homes.
Several other flood topics were brought before the Metro Council on Wednesday, including an update on local waterways and the start of talks about how many millions of dollars it's going to cost to pay for all the damaged public property.
There's also a chance the airport could serve as a future site for trailers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA has previously announced its preference for rental assistance and performing basic repairs so flood victims can shelter at home, but many politicians have said the trailers will be the only way forward for many residents, and not every lot has enough space to fit one.
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The East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office submitted a $35,000 proposal to lease five acres at the airport to place trailers for deputies and their families, though the measure was pulled without discussion.
However, Aviation Director Anthony Marino said FEMA has expressed interest in renting about eight acres for 27 trailers, but no deal has been struck.
The Metro Council also introduced a measure to allocate $47 million to pay for flood-related expenses. The matter will go up for discussion and vote during the next meeting on Sept. 22. According to supporting documents, it will cost at least $31 million to pay for debris removal, $10 million for building and equipment repairs, $5 million for emergency protective measures and $899,000 for contractors to apply for flood-related grants and oversee the disbursement of federal funds.
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The city-parish expects that all or nearly all the money will be reimbursed by the federal government's public assistance program. Recently, the White House upped the amount it will pay local governments' flood expenses from 75 percent to 90 percent. The city-parish intends to pay the rest with its budget stabilization fund, and the East Baton Rouge finance director has said the local government won't have to put off any capital projects to make up its share.
Besides the cost of debris removal, the city took damage to dozens of police vehicles, fire departments, libraries and other public property.
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The council also signed off on the $899,000 deal with the grant contractors, which will apply for grants on behalf of the city and oversee the disbursement of federal money. Several asked questions about whether the bid was properly advertised and what it would pay for, but city-parish Chief Administrative Officer William Daniel said it was competitively bid and that the amount is the "not to exceed" amount based on the salaries at the company, CSRS Inc.
Public works staff also submitted a report on parish waterways. Fallen trees have worsened erosion around the Comite River, and water levels in the south of the parish near Bayou Manchac were still high.
Canals appear to be back to normal, but portions of Cypress Bayou and Redwood Creek still had some tree debris when workers performed their observations at various points in the past two weeks.
In their written report, staff recommended three methods to improve drainage. First, the parish could bring back the plan to bond out money to update 42 miles of channels, though a bond issue to support such a strategy has failed three times. The unfunded Comite River Diversion Canal would also help, though it will require federal support. Finally, the connections between subdivision and municipal channels need to be improved to increase capacity.
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Public works staff shot aerial photographs of the damage they encountered and made a map for the council. Loupe asked that it be made public. The city-parish has been publishing its flood-related public maps at gis.brla.gov/.
While the big news out of Wednesday's meeting for many was the news that they definitely won't have to elevate their homes, there are a few caveats.
Buildings in high-risk zones — sometimes called A zones — that sustained 50 percent damage and are not currently at least one foot above the base flood elevation level will still have to be torn down or raised up.
"There's nothing we can do about A (zones,)" Daniel said.
High-risk zones must meet standards set forth by the federal government so residents of a parish or municipality may participate in the National Flood Insurance Plan.
For decades, the city-parish has enforced stricter building codes than the federal minimum to receive cheaper flood insurance rates. Earlier this month, the Metro Council made other changes to try to reduce the number of people who will be forced to rebuild.
Previously, people had to raise or rebuild when their homes received 40 percent damage. The threshold was raised to 50 percent. Also, homes in high-risk flood zones only have to be a foot above the base flood elevation after the council exempted the recent flood from any elevation standards.
The city-parish has lost points toward its flood rating for changing its standards. However, Daniel said Wednesday that none of the changes so far has pushed the parish into a lower rating that will force people to pay higher premiums.
The newest rule does not affect new construction in low- and moderate-risk zones, which must still be built one foot above the street center line, manhole covers and record inundation excluding the recent event, explained engineer Shannon Dupont, the city-parish's floodplain manager.
Furthermore, property owners who have land in a high-risk zone, but their houses are in a low-risk zone and flooded, will not have to meet any type of elevation standard, said interim assistant chief administrative officer Carey Chauvin.