Livingston authorities will hire a legal team to make a case for another $120 million in federal disaster recovery funds.
During the 2016 flood, water pooled over streets throughout the parish and remained there for days, damaging the roads, Parish President Layton Ricks said in a Wednesday interview.
The parish sought money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to repair or replace roads, particularly where the water soaked into the earth and damaged the roads from beneath. FEMA, however, rejected Livingston's proposal, Ricks said.
On Thursday evening, he petitioned the Parish Council to sign off on a contract with special counsel to again make the case for at least $120 million and take FEMA to arbitration.
The council met with Ricks behind closed doors but afterward agreed to hire lawyers by a unanimous vote, minus absent Councilman John Wascom. The council did not specify which firm the parish would hire, or for what amount. After the meeting, Council Chairman Shane Mack said those particulars are still being negotiated and he couldn’t discuss specifics.
The parish has less than two months to turn over documents to the Civilian Contractors’ Board of Appeal, a Washington D.C.-based professional organization which will hear arguments from FEMA and the parish and issue a ruling that could allow Livingston to claim all or some of the money it’s seeking, said parish emergency preparedness director Mark Harrell.
Congress passed a law last year that makes arbitration with the board possible, Harrell said. A similar system was in place after Hurricane Katrina, though the process had changed since. Going back to the old procedure will benefit communities around the country, Harrell said.
Councilman Garry "Frog" Talbert also attempted to introduce a new version of a proposed ordinance to limit fill in an effort to reduce flooding. However, other council members threw the brakes on the measure, saying they need more time to study it.
Fill refers to dirt brought in to elevate a building to meet federal guidelines and secure flood insurance waivers, but there are also concerns that too much fill can displace water onto neighboring properties in a storm.
The parish ordinance committee lacked a quorum and did not meet before Thursday’s full council meeting to discuss the proposal. However, Talbert discussed his proposal with reporters.
The new guidelines are substantially similar to a version deferred last month. They would limit the height of fill to 2 feet for lots of less than half an acre and 3 feet for larger properties. Fill would be allowed only within 2 feet of building slabs, and not within 8 feet of adjacent lots, Talbert said.
The biggest difference this time around is that residents seeking additional fill would not have to perform a full drainage impact study if a licensed civil engineer demonstrates the extra material would not affect neighbors or would be offset by flood control measures such as retention ponds, Talbert said. Parish engineers would have to review the findings and sign off, he said.
There are already drainage requirements for commercial properties, multi-family homes and subdivisions, so the new rules would effectively apply only to single-family homes not in a subdivision, Talbert said.
Had it been accepted, the proposal would have been debated and voted on April 25. Mack said he wants a few more weeks to consider the proposal and discuss the matter, noting the great effect it will have on what residents may and may not do on their property. Similar proposals have been in discussion for months, Talbert retorted.
“I really don’t want to flood again. It’s time to address the problems that we’ve had,” he said.
Talbert, Maurice “Scooter” Keen, Jeff Ard and Tracy Girlinghouse voted to introduce the item. Mack, R.C. “Bubba” Harris, Jeff Averett and Tab Lobell voted against it. The tie meant the item did not advance.
After the vote, Ard said leaders need to think about the people who currently live in Livingston Parish, not the developers looking to build new houses.