DENHAM SPRINGS -- The Community Rating System (CRS) is a piece of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) puzzle. It provides governmental bodies with a roughly 700-page outline that describes incentive programs for communities to improve their CRS rating - via a point system - through a wide variety of activities.
In many cases, each of those incentive programs have their own 20-30 page supplemental booklet outlining specific goals within that section, which earn CRS points.
And city official and floodplain manager Rick Foster, as well as his team, are after those points.
For instance - a recent effort between the Jeanette Clark, recovery coordinator, and several parish service groups, including Rotary and Livingston Young Professionals, labeled storm drains inside the city limits to show that only water should go down the drain, not oil, grass, or paint. Combined with informational push cards placed on doors, that project earned CRS points for the city.
Outreach is but one of the categories that provide points, said Foster. Often Foster's two titles overlap, especially in a post-flood market, which is why he sought certifications in both.
Not only does Foster approve building plans, inside the Denham Springs city limits - more often than not - they'll have to be compared to flood plain maps to make sure new construction meets flood elevation requirements.
The city has one other floodplain manager, Foster said, and another is seeking her certification.
In order to get certified, Foster explained, individuals must take a class through FEMA designated E-273. The class is a high-level view of the NFIP, including:
- Community outreach techniques
- Flood Insurance Rate Map explanations
- Flood Insurance compared to Base Flood Elevation
- Minimum elevation requirements
- Permitting through NFIP in flood plains
- Substantial damage or improvement
- Legal and case studies
- How to read elevation certificates
After certification, the CRS has it's own four-day class which discusses the specific incentive programs.
When Foster arrived in Denham Springs, the city was doing the bare minimum to hold a "9" rating. The rating system begins at 1 and drops to 10, each less number represents a 5-percent discount on flood insurance premiums in the governing area.
Foster's arrival was also the day of Gustav - Sept. 1, 2008.
It was not long after that FEMA - through a local insurance auditing company - came for what is called a "cycle visit" or audit. During that audit, Foster asked the off-handed question of "what can we do better?"
"Once (the auditors) started talking, we just started taking notes," Foster remembered, "and came up with a list of things we could improve on."
From Foster's initial audit meeting, the city has tried to find every way it can to improve the CRS rating - with a caveat.
"We want to do as much as we can, within reason," Foster explained. "We don't want to stifle development.
"It's a balance."
Foster explained that earning points is just as much a day-to-day process as it is finding specific projects or ordinances on which to work. Even how they file paperwork and enforce restrictions, such as base flood elevations, play a factor.
"Community outreach is fun," Foster mused. "We did a course about elevation and mitigation with the fifth graders at Northside Elementary (Denham Springs).
"They actually loved it, and we get points for that - it's a win-win."
He also alluded to the concepts of dirt fill limits and "free boarding." Free boarding is a concept that requires new homes to be built a certain level above the Base Flood Elevation.
"This provides a cushion in case (FEMA) changes maps later on down the line, and can prevent flood insurance from rising or kicking in at all," Foster explained.
Dirt fill is being discussed by the parish council to limit the amount allowed per new home. In order to meet base flood homes will have to use other means of elevation, should the dirt fill not be enough to reach base flood elevation.
Both are currently being discussed by Denham Springs city officials as propositions to the council, but no ordinances have yet been written - although the city does have building height requirements (whichever is highest):
- 1' above the crown of the street
- 1' above the nearest manhole
- At or above Base Flood Elevation
Dirt fill and free boarding would provide CRS points.
According to Foster any changes to the program, specifically what provides points or how a point program changes requirements, come about once every three years, sometimes four. Notification is typically word of mouth through the CRS network; Louisiana Floodplain Managers Association; or conferences.
"Sometimes the local auditors notify us in person, but it's nothing formal," Foster said.
Currently, the city's "8" rating provides a 10-percent discount on flood insurance premiums for a total of $262,315 city wide. A "7" rating would push those savings to $390,764.
The city just went through a cycle and is awaiting results sometime in May, Foster figures. If the report returns that the city didn't jump to a "7" rating, his team will analyze the report, see what they can do, and try again.