The Great Flood of 2016 left a lasting impression on the Livingston Parish community.
And some of those impressions have remained consistent issues for local residents.
Recently, roughly 1,200 property owners received letters from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) regarding their structure's elevation. According to the letters, FEMA's data combined with parish inspections determined that their home or property was 'substantially damaged' in the Great Flood of 2016, but it was not caught at the time.
Substantial damage means that the cost to repair the structure to it's pre-flood state would be more than 50% of its value. The same rule applies for adding onto a home or business, as well.
The FEMA letter goes on to state that, based on parish ordinance, they must elevate their structure to above base flood elevation (plus one foot, due to freeboard) or sell their property to the federal government, bringing it out of commerce.
Congressman Garret Graves said that, from the D.C. perspective, he understands the frustration of dealing with FEMA. His office continues to work with the FEMA governing authority to determine the best methods for property owners to navigate the process, as well as adjustments that can be made after certain mitigation projects are completed and the large amount of money that has found its way to Louisiana 'has been spent.'
"There are paths forward to remedy this," Graves explained on the phone with the News. "There's billions of dollars in recovery funds that have already been sent to Louisiana, or are coming."
Those funds are broken down as such:
- $68 million in Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (elevation, acquisition)
- $1.2 billion in Louisiana Watershed Initiative Money
- $5.2 billion ($3.2 billion state, $2 billion cities) in COVID-19 recovery
- ~$400 million in Comite Diversion Canal money
According to Graves, FEMA is still utilizing maps that are centralized around structure elevation. Using Comite as an example, Graves said the Washington, D.C. delegation is working with FEMA, as well as state and local authorities, to not only get mitigation dollars spent - but have those projects reflected in flood maps and, therefore, insurance policies.
Despite continual delays, the Comite is expected to be completed by the end of 2022. Estimates have the project affecting the flood level in the Denham Springs area anywhere from 6 inches to 2 feet. Final estimates on that reduction are not currently available.
"I think the total numbers of homes in the penalty box will drop due to projects and expenditures," Graves explained, "We're using every tool in the political tool chest to get billions of appropriated dollars into Louisiana and spent."
In the mean time, however, Graves recommends that Livingston Parish residents work with the Livingston Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness to appeal their substantial damage letter, or apply for mitigation grants.
Councilman Garry 'Frog' Talbert (District 2) says that property owners have two avenues to take after receiving the letter, which include an appeals process as well as an application for Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) funds for elevation or acquisition.
Talbert asked residents to call the Livingston Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (LOHSEP) at 225-686-3066 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and cite their particular address and that they received a letter.
Property owners then have a choice to make. To appeal the process, they will likely need a 2016 valuation of their home, as well as local area comparables, and the expenses incurred in repairing the home. Property owners should also present a flood elevation certificate, if they have one.
HMGP projects can either elevate or acquire a home. Property acquisition will tear down a home, and remove that land from general commerce - wherein it can only be brought back to market through congressional approval.
Elevations come in the form of grants at anywhere from 75% - 100% cost share, depending on the number of times your property has flooded and at what elevation it sits.
Talbert said that LOHSEP will guide property owners through either process, but be prepared to do the work which should have been done in 2016.