The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is experiencing financial woes. In the wake of a 7-year span that has seen eight natural disasters, beginning with Superstorm Sandy, the program continues to get hit with massive flood reimbursement payouts.
The NFIP provides flood insurance for communities that comply with minimum standards for flood plain management. It is a federally run program that hopes to fill a gap left by stand homeowner and commercial property policies that do not cover flood losses.
As of October 1, 2016 - just 45 days after the Great Flood - the NFIP had 5.1 million residential and commercial policies in force, with $1.25 trillion in written coverage that accrued $3.6 billion in annual premiums.
From 1978 through March of 2016, 2.2 million losses were paid, totaling over $54 billion.
Estimated insurance costs for the Great Flood totalled just over $20 billion, although not all flood victims were covered through the NFIP.
To qualify for the NFIP, a community or municipality must adopt and enforce floodplain management ordinances to regulate development in flood hazard areas. In Livingston Parish, this includes measures such as dirt fill to meet base flood elevation and drainage impact studies for new developments.
The NFIP has a sister program, called the ‘Community Rating System (CRS),’ which rewards communities for doing more than the base regulations for new construction and new developments to minimum standards.
CRS utilizes a point system for specific activities, which count toward levels in the program. Beginning with ‘10,’ which is the highest level and affords no discount, the level system drops down to a 1 - which is worth a 45% discount on insurance premiums.
In Louisiana, currently, the standard-bearer for the CRS is Jefferson Parish, which holds a ‘5’ rating. Their floodplain manager, Maggie Talley, also sits on the board which revises the CRS manual to update and make appropriate changes every three years.
The 700-page CRS manual recommends that communities have a floodplain manager to analyze the guidelines; help their local governing body adopt new methods of floodplain management, based on the manual; and to enforce those rules and regulations which are adopted.
Currently, the City of Denham Springs has three floodplain managers according to Rick Foster, city building inspector and a certified floodplain manager. The City of Walker has two.
Both municipalities carry an ‘8’ rating, although the city of Denham Springs is hoping to push into a ‘7’ after their most recent audit cycle, which occurs twice a year.
The parish as a whole does not have a floodplain manager on staff, although they do work with local engineering firms on floodplain issues.
Recently, the parish was removed from the CRS program due to non-compliance with the CRS guidelines to be eligible for a discount. According to a letter sent to the parish by CRS and FEMA officials, a certain number of permits requested could not be confirmed to have the appropriate flood elevation certificates attached. According to Activity 310 of the CRS handbook, at least 90% of permits must be confirmed to have the appropriate elevation certificate attached.
According to Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks, the parish was not granted enough time to respond to the CRS’ request for information, which eventually led to their removal from the program after they could not meet the deadline. Ricks said that the information was kept on an ‘older software system’ that needed to be updated.
That removal resulted in a drop from a ‘9’ rating to nothing, which will apply a 5% increase to flood insurance premiums throughout unincorporated Livingston Parish. The nearest time frame for reinstatement into the program is May of 2020, if certain requirements are met.
Denham Springs and Walker remain in the program.
According to a CRS ‘What If’ report, which outlines the costs and benefits of CRS ranking, the parish has a total of 16,416 flood insurance polices in force. The ‘9’ rating saved roughly $30 per policy annually, for a total of $493,200. If the parish were to reach an ‘8’ ranking, it would save $58 per policy annually, or $946,819.
In order to acquire CRS points, communities must participate in 19 creditable activities, which are organized under four categories. These include:
-Public Information Activities (300 series)
-Mapping and Regulations (400 series)
-Flood Damage Reduction Activities (500 series)
-Warning and Response (600 series)
Public information activities advise citizens about flood hazards, encourge the purchase of flood insurance, and provide information about ways in which individuals can reduce their own impact on the floodplain. An example includes the storm drain markers placed by the City of Denham Springs in conjunction with Rotary Club of Livingston Parish and Livingston Young Professionals, alerting homeowners that even grass clippings in the drain can cause problems.
Warning and Response includes state-level activities like maintenance of levies and state-maintained waterways, as well as development of a localized response to natural disasters. The City of Walker and City of Denham Springs’ recent trip to the Emergency Management Institute, and the programs that are installed as a result, will help earn CRS points.
Mapping and Regulations as well as Flood Damage Reduction Activities are the hardest points to earn because they change building codes, regulations, and requirements. A current example of this is the controversy at the parish council over dirt fill regulations. Limiting dirt fill and requiring other means of elevation past a certain point would earn CRS points, but the question on the mind of the council members is - at what cost?