LIVINGSTON - Livingston Parish is going up.
At least, new construction homes will.
With unanimous approval, one foot of 'freeboard' will be required on all new residences in flood zones 'A' and 'AE.'
'Freeboard' requires that new homes being built must be a certain height above the 'Base Flood Elevation' (BFE). The measure helps for points in the 'Community Rating System.' According to certain council members, it also provides immediate relief of flood insurance rates for new construction in flood zones.
Councilman Garry 'Frog' Talbert mentioned that he was instructed by engineers that going to 1.5' free board will be counted as two feet in the CRS. Councilman Maurice 'Scooter' Keen echoed the sentiment, and said that director of Homeland Security Mark Harrell told the council at the end of their May meeting that freeboard is a good idea, and would help with insurance rates.
He also said Harrell instructed 'freeboard' would get the parish 'back into the CRS.'
The unanimous passage of freeboard at the ordinance committee at the end of May, for consideration by the parish council, came after Director of Homeland Security Mark Harrell gave an impassioned speech about the parish's issues with FEMA and the CRS.
Harrell recommended the council adopt anything that would help the parish's standing with FEMA, as he begins the process of forming a task force to deal with the list of issues FEMA required the parish to fix before they would be allowed back in the CRS system.
Talbert also brought discussion to the table regarding the requirement of specific flood zones, saying that 'X' is currently exempt in the new 'freeboard' ordinance and he wondered if that was a mistake.
"I think people in those flood zones have a false sense of security," Talbert said, "I heard 80% of flood zone 'X' took water in 2016.
"And they could change the (flood) maps at any time."
Engineer Chad Bacas, of Forte & Tablada, agreed after being asked about potential changes to the flood maps.
"(The federal government) is looking for money to update those maps, which were done in 2008 and 2012," Bacas said. "They're based on 100-year floods, which the Great Flood was, so I expect them to change."
"I don't know if you've ever zoomed out on those flood maps," Bacas joked, "but there's very little zone 'X' in Livingston Parish."
The council decided to pass the ordinance as flood zone 'A' and 'AE' only.
Proposed changes to the construction requirements come on the heels of controversial, three-foot dirt fill restrictions, combined with a 2-foot freeboard, which were approved in neighboring Ascension Parish in the middle of May.
“That’s a monster,” Talbert said. “I don’t understand ‘no net fill’ and a ‘fill limit.’ I think they’re looking to slow development down, and it may help their floodplain management, I’m not sure.
“I’m just looking to protect our flood plain.”
Developers at the Ascension meeting stressed that new construction would be more expensive in areas where fill is required to raise homes to reach base flood elevation. Pier-and-beam construction would be required for any home that must rise over three feet because the council also passed a requirement that new homes be built “two feet above the base flood elevation.”
John Blount, a general contractor and builder in Livingston Parish, sent a similar message to the ordinance committee. He had originally shown up to discuss dirt fill, but took the time to make comments on any kind of elevation requirement in construction.
"I think we're all in favor of some type of steps, and as a developer I'm behind this," Blount said, "There's no one-size fits all, surely there can be some type of study done (about what's best for what areas)."