Almost every time the water rose in Maurepas over the last decade, Myra James Duhe’s home was threatened. She’s rebuilt the retaining wall on the outskirts of her property three times, has thought of moving and has researched ways to ease the burden each time.
But after years of battling, she’s finally rising with the water.
Duhe’s home, off La. 22 in Maurepas near the Amite River and nearby canals, is undergoing a 9-foot lift through a Livingston Parish Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness program that connects flood-prone residents with Federal Emergency Management Agency grants to mitigate flooding effects.
The parish works with homeowners to apply for the Flood Mitigation Assistance grants that enable them to have their homes lifted, or to sell their land to the parish to use as green space. Since 2013, the parish has worked with 81 homeowners, grant coordinator Sarah Allen said.
Duhe should see her home lifted 9 feet above its current standing within a few months, but the process took more than a year for application, approval and contract work. Still, it’s worth it for the 74-year-old, who was growing tired of the stress and frustration of rebuilding again and again.
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“I can’t put it into words what it has done for us; I’m 74 and my husband is 80,” she said. “Those two floods (Hurricane Isaac in 2012 and the historic flood in 2016) and all of the hard work just about killed us, to put it mildly. We had no help, and when everybody around you is in the same condition, there’s no help to be had so you just do the best you can.”
Allen is again imploring residents to reach out to determine their grant application eligibility ahead of the Oct. 1 preliminary paperwork deadline. She said it can be a long process — such as Duhe’s more than year-long wait for work to begin — as officials verify information, gather paperwork and hire contractors, but one that benefits both the parish and homeowners when flooding hits.
Though there’s the option for acquisition, where the parish buys the homeowner’s property instead of elevating it, Allen said, the majority of applicants would rather stay in their homes despite the flood risk.
“We have a lot more homeowners choose to do the elevation,” she said. “A lot of homeowners really don’t want to look anywhere else, and especially in southeast Louisiana, it’s hard to find a property you could honestly say would never flood.”
Depending on the home’s flooding history, Allen said, the grants can cover as much as 100% of the elevation cost, but in some cases, homeowners will need to chip in up to 25% of the cost. The responsibility is with the homeowner to find three suitable contractor bids and submit them to the grant program, and the homeowner must have a current flood insurance policy to qualify.
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The program applies to the home, not the homeowner, and Allen said many residents are unaware that if they’ve never personally flooded but they bought a house that has, for example, they may still qualify. Especially since the 2016 flood, she said, she’s seen a huge variance in applications with the influx of flood-damaged properties.
“Since the 2016 flood (applications have come) from all over the parish, but prior to that, the majority was around Springfield, Maurepas, Killian and those places closer to bodies of water,” Allen said.
Duhe’s home has been lifted 4 feet, but she’ll need to wait a few more months for the extra 5-foot lift to be complete. She grew up in the area, and though she left to move closer to New Orleans when she was young, Duhe returned home after retirement and bought her property.
“When you flood, you just work all day long — no beginning and no end. There’s no such thing as a punch card or an itinerary, you just work,” she said. “It took us nine months to rebuild after Isaac and eight months after the August (2016) flood. We thought about leaving, but this is home to me.”
Anyone interested in applying for the flood mitigation program can contact Allen at (225) 686-3987 or firstname.lastname@example.org.