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Eighth Ward Volunteer Fire Department Chief Ira Brown, of Ponchatoula, marks a flood map with locations he knows are improperly represented during a FEMA public input meeting in Hammond on Nov. 5, 2019.

HAMMOND — Tangipahoa Parish is leading the state in a series of watershed meetings that, depending on public input, could help reshape FEMA floodmaps in the future.

During an open house Tuesday hosted by the Water Institute of the Gulf, Tangipahoa Parish officials sought to gather specific details about community floodings that are sometimes overlooked on-the-whole when mapping out a watershed. They were looking at such factors as blocked culverts, troublesome bridges and often-waterlogged roadways.

The watershed getting closer scrutiny sits in large part in Tangipahoa Parish, but also stretches into St. Helena and into two counties in Mississippi. It made it to the top of the list when FEMA was prioritizing remapping endeavors because of its heavy flooding in recent years, according to Water Institute research scientist Ryan Clark.

He led the public meeting, which is part of FEMA’s Base Level Engineering process.

“We’re trying to get community input as early as possible in the process so that people are engaged and the community is part of the process, it’s not just a FEMA-driven thing,” he said.

He said that makes sense because people in the communities know best where flooding happens and have ideas for solutions.

Eighth Ward Volunteer Fire Department chief Ira Brown, from Ponchatoula, hovered over a large-scale printed map print of his area on Tuesday, adding notes about areas with a significant degree of flooding that often get overlooked.

He said growing development in what used to be rural areas has in some cases led to water problems where they didn't exist before so aren’t documented anywhere.

“I’m all for development, but let’s do it in a way that’s planned and makes sense,” he said, while marking a small stream that often backs up near a bridge, causing problems.

Parish President Robby Miller said the parish has already been pushing to collect more flooding data to shape its own rules and regulations and future development.

But he said he’s confident that Tangipahoa will be “leaps and bounds” ahead of others when it comes time to begin hazard mitigation and flooding studies, given that it topped the list as one of the first watershed meetings.

Residents are unlikely see the results of these planned meetings for some time, though, since FEMA may take more than a year to host similar meetings across the state and process the data received.

But Clark said parishes and municipalities can start making decisions immediately.

“Communities like Independence and Osyka, Mississippi, can use this information right away to make permitting decisions, they can use it to help establish base level elevations where there’s no current information and they can start thinking about hazard mitigation projects,” he said.

Email Emma Kennedy at ekennedy@theadvocate.com.