Every few years the Corps of Engineers (COE) and the Federal Emerngecy Management Administration (FEMA) adjust maps of the flood plains to reflect what they believe is the potential for water height in that area during or after heavy rain or a natural disaster.
What that translates to is the ‘Base Flood Elevation’ or ‘BFE’ for a specific location. That measurement is considered the minimum safe height for a builder of a home or business to adhere to for safe construction and, in many cases, removes the flood insurance requirement.
For many subdivisions and individual home construction projects, the cheapest options for both residences and businesses to bring in piles of dirt, or ‘dirt fill,’ to move up above the BFE line and then begin construction.
Slab homes built on dirt fill are considered more stable by engineers, contractors, and insurance agents, than using pier-and-beam construction to lift out of the flood zone.
Dirt fill brings extra material into flood plains, which are areas that already naturally hold water when rivers - such as the Amite - overflow their banks.
Melissa Kennedy, a drainage engineer who spoke to the (recently reformed) Master Plan Committee was asked by Parish Councilman Jeff Ard whether or not dirt fill affects flood plains in a negative manner, to which she said ‘yes.’
Initially, the council wanted to limit dirt fill - via ordinance - to a certain amount, per acreage. The rest of the construction method would have to be pier-and-beam or other avenues to reach BFE.
Feedback from local builders, contractors, citizens, engineering firms, and a difference of opinion among the councilmen themselves regarding what is most appropriate for their individual districts sparked the return of the ordinance to committee for language adjustments.
Opinions of the council ranged from no limit to dirt fill, which means any amount of dirt can be used at any time to match BFE requirements; zero dirt fill, which would required any house in a flood zone to be pier-and-beam construction; and the proposed ‘meet-in-the-middle’ plan which would have a dirt fill limit, combined with raised homes on top.
The ordinance committee will meet before the parish council on Thursday, May 23rd. Although the parish cannot earn points immediately, if they are reinstated in the Community Rating System program, dirt fill ordinances do count for points, which helps toward flood insurance premium discounts.