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Feb 7, 2006

FEMA Ties Federal Money To New Flood Maps

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced today that it will require local communities to adhere to the elevation requirements shown on the Advisory Base Flood Elevation (ABFE) maps for projects funded by the agency. This policy means that Mississippi and Louisiana communities that accept FEMA grant money for reconstruction will have to agree to abide by the new, higher, minimum elevations shown on the ABFE maps in order to be eligible for FEMA-funding.

In the wake of the devastating floods caused by Hurricane Katrina, FEMA issued new flood maps for Mississippi coastal counties. New maps for Louisiana are expected at the end of February or in March. While currently, the maps are "advisory" and not yet legally binding, FEMA strongly urged local communities to use the new maps in permitting reconstruction projects.

However, many Mississippi communities have complained that the new maps, and their requirements that buildings be built at higher elevations, would make rebuilding financially unfeasible and would negatively impact their economies. Local officials continue to drag their feet and refuse to adopt the higher building elevations. The communities will eventually be forced to adopt the new map elevations when they become official. Until then, many local governments have been permitting rebuilding projects based on the old flood maps.

This action by FEMA means that at least those public projects funded with federal tax dollars will be built to the higher elevations, and therefore less likely to be flooded. However, FEMA stopped short of requiring that the ABFE elevations be used in the rebuilding of private homes, despite the fact that many homes will be rebuilt using FEMA'’s Individual and Households Assistance housing reimbursement grants. This means that there may be thousands of homes rebuilt along the gulf coast using the old, out of date flood maps. Those homes will once again face the potential for catastrophicc flooding when a major storm occurs.