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Dec 7, 2005

Miss. Town Postpones Adopting New Flood Maps

The Pascagoula, Mississippi City Council has postponed adopting new flood elevations recommended by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) until at least January 6, 2006. "This is one of the most difficult things the council has to address because it affects so many people citywide," The Mississippi Press quoted Mayor Matthew Avara as saying.

Advice Goes Unheeded
As I posted on November 18th, FEMA has issued, Advisory Base Flood Elevation maps for the Mississippi coast. While not legally binding yet, FEMA issued the maps in an effort to help guide the rebuilding effort following Hurricane Katrina. The new maps raised the 100 Year Flood Plain elevation on average from 3 to 8 feet. FEMA, "strongly urged" local governments to adopt the revised flood maps for permitting rebuilding projects.

But as I've posted a couple of times, local governments have shown considerable reluctance in adopting the new elevation requirements, citing the adverse impact it would have on re-construction costs. The Press states that Pascagoula officials said that adopting FEMA's latest advisory flood maps would require most homes near the beach to build 18 feet to 20 feet above sea level.

Permitting Another Disaster
At some point, local communities will have to adopt the new maps and adhere to them. However, the process of making the maps legally binding could take up to two years. In the mean time, local building officials can legally issue building permits based on the flood maps from the 1980's, knowing that the best science now available indicates that doing so leaves their citizens vulnerable to another 100 year flood.

Lock In Low Rates
Not only are local officials allowing their citizens to rebuild at the lower flood elevations, in some cases they are actually encouraging it. A property owner that rebuilds before the new maps become official can lock in flood insurance rates based on the outdated maps from the 1980's. The Press quoted Pascagoula Building Official Steve Mitchell as saying, "(I'm) not trying to be a salesman, but buy (flood) insurance now."