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Livingston Parish homeland security officials throw water bottles to a woman with her hand stretched out as she was stranded on nearby railroad tracks along Keith Street in Walker around lunchtime Thursday, June 6, 2019. The emergency workers were bringing people back to the homes in the area, which were surrounded by water, though most of the homes weren’t flooded, residents said.

Livingston Parish took its first step Thursday to get back in the good graces of the Federal Emergency Management Agency with the unanimous adoption of a one-foot freeboard requirement as a flood prevention tactic.

FEMA last month threatened to pull millions of dollars in aid from the parish after handing down a list of corrective actions to address how the parish responded to the 2016 flood. The agency’s issues were with the methods the parish used to inspect and determine substantial damage months after the flood.

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The parish already is reeling from FEMA rescinding its participation in the Community Rating System entirely after questions about how permits were issued for construction in flood zones.

The CRS impacts the rates residents in unincorporated parts of the parish pay for flood insurance. The CRS is run by FEMA, and encourages better floodplain management though practices like freeboard by offering discounts on flood insurance.

Though officials did not specifically talk about the FEMA audit Thursday night, they did make a start in approving two flood disaster-related ordinances to craft how the parish prevents and responds to emergencies.

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The first — freeboard — refers to the level at which newly-constructed homes must be built to prevent flooding.

Livingston’s current ordinance requires new construction projects in flood zones A and AE to be built at or above the base flood elevation, but Thursday’s vote, if signed into law by the parish president, would enforce builds one foot above that base level.

Some council members expressed going higher than one foot, suggesting starting at 18 or 24 inches instead. Homes built at a higher level garner a lower flood insurance premium, so the higher the parish mandates builds, the higher the net savings in flood insurance for constituents, they said.

“I’d say we go ahead and adopt this and let’s look at it maybe later," councilman John Wascom said. "We can use this to determine the cost it’ll cost us, the hardship versus the savings in insurance premiums.” 

The council also discussed implementing the one-foot freeboard for those in flood zone X as well as A and AE. Councilman Garry “Frog” Talbert said he worries the outdated FEMA flood map — which is nearing the end of its 10-year lifespan without a date set for remapping — has those in flood zone X believing they’re safe despite the likelihood the 2016 flood and recent rainfall events has changed the mapping system.

“Are we giving them a false sense of security given what we know we saw in 2016?” he said.

The second ordinance being sent to the parish president would give authority for law enforcement to issue citations for people who disobey parish waterway closures during emergencies.

Livingston Parish Homeland Security Director Mark Harrell, who is handling the parish’s response to FEMA’s audit findings, was not present at the meeting Thursday and was unavailable for an interview to update on specific measures the parish has taken to comply with FEMA's audit findings.


Follow Emma Kennedy on Twitter, @byemmakennedy.