Livingston Parish dodged a bullet.
According to U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, who inquired with the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), both Livingston and East Baton Rouge Parishes were going to be able to avoid National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) probation and suspension.
“Exclusion from the National Flood Insurance Program would be devastating for our communities,” said Dr. Cassidy. “FEMA confirmed with me that probation or suspension from the NFIP will not be pursued as they work with local officials to bring East Baton Rouge and Livingston parishes into compliance.”
That statement came after word reached the senator's office that FEMA was considering either version of those measures after both parishes were audited on several fronts - including permitting; flood plain management; and post-disaster response to the 2016 flood.
The saga began in March of 2019, when the parish was removed from the Community Rating System (CRS) due to inappropriate permitting policies - including an inability to provide permits for a cross-section of flood elevation certificates requested by FEMA.
The CRS is a point-system that provides communities a discount on flood insurance should certain flood prevention measures be met - including community involvement; education; building code ordinances including freeboard and dirt fill; as well as large scale drainage and prevention projects.
Livingston Parish went from a 9 rating, providing a 5% discount on resident's flood insurance bill, to out of the program all together. Residents inside the city limits of Denham Springs and Walker were allowed to stay in the program.
During that time, a Community Assistance Visit (CAV) was administered and the parish received a follow-up letter from FEMA, sometime in May of 2019.
The results of the CAV were outlined:
- Substantive program deficiencies and violations related to repair permits and substantial damage determinations during post-flood disaster recovery
- The Parish's Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance (FDPO) needs amending
- Further review is necessary concerning 27 sites of recent floodplain development
Mark Harrell, director of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, was aware of the deficiencies in the 'substantially damaged' assessment and permitting process. In a News interview on May 24th, Harrell said that the parish simply wasn't equipped to handle an event on the magnitude of the flood of 2016.
Harrell's proposal was to bring the permitting process in a post-disaster scenario to his office, and use state-level assistance through disaster response methods which would provide extra labor to administer inspections and file paperwork.
The new plan and process should be sufficient for FEMA to put the parish on even footing with FEMA again.
According to the FEMA letter, the parish submitted 123 sites in the 'substantial damage book,' and 220 sites in the condemnation book - for a total of 343 sites.
FEMA's challenge centers around those results.
"Based on available information from the 2016 flooding event, including NFIP policy and claims data, and home inspections related to FEMA's Individual Assistance program, we estimate the Parish should have conducted at least 4,000 substantial damage related inspections on structures in the 'Severe Flood Hazard Areas' (SFHA) with damages estimated to be more than 50 percent of their value," the letter said.
"An even larger number of structures would require repair permits," the letter explained.
Harrell said that the update to the FPDO and the parish's post-disaster inspection process will be sent to FEMA first for critique, before he presents it to the parish council for adoption as an ordinance.
According to FEMA, their relationship with communities to provide flood insurance is a trade. In return for insuring structures against a disaster, local authorities must 'adopt and enforce floodplain management regulations through a local FDPO which must meet or exceed the NFIP's minimum criteria.'
FEMA goes on to say that, to date, Livingston Parish residents and business have received $540,000,000 in NFIP claim payments. The letter then turns the other cheek and states that a failure to comply will jeopardize the availability of FEMA funds for grants - which Harrell specified to the parish council.
It also says that failure to comply will also jeopardize the availability of flood insurance.
The current audit is still in process, as the letter also requests permits and flood elevation certificates attached to 27 structures that were visited by the CAV team which were in severe flood hazard areas. Those records were due by Sunday, June 23rd (30 days after reception of the first letter).
Results from the severe flood hazard areas have yet to be released.