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There’s been a shift in the way the rules are made.

And it’s not too popular with some locals.

As has become the case with roundabouts, dirt fill, free board, flood mitigation, and now the way the parish treats the sewer system – large governmental bodies are calling the shots.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA); Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ); Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); and The Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) have all had a hand in recent development in Livingston Parish.

And it will continue as the parish government, and local governments, slog through new regulations.

But why? Well, first is the call for a more fiscally responsible government. Instead of the cuts that were anticipated by most of the population, these entities are playing more in the price game. For instance – DOTD was responsible for the roundabouts in Livingston Parish, both as a choice to see how effective they were, and the fact that roundabouts were – per DOTD numbers – significantly cheaper than construction and maintenance of light-directed intersections.

DOTD estimated that the cost of light maintenance would be $1.5 million per year, while roundabouts are anywhere from $300,000-$400,000 depending on size.

As the scope and scale of these entities grow, those numbers become a little worse. Less than 10% of households paid enough into their flood insurance pot to receive the average payout – which was just shy of $100,000 per insured home. Most paid decidedly less, especially homes that were 10 years old or under.

Couch that against the fact that, to date, the National Flood Insurance Program has paid out $540,000,000 to Livingston Parish alone, while the parish has paid well under half of that in premiums, shows that – from a governmental perspective – FEMA must enforce rules on local municipalities.

And many times those rules are freedom prohibitive – and in a lot of cases they’re cost prohibitive.

Take the NFIP ruleset, for instance, combined with the Community Rating System (CRS). With the CRS, FEMA is extending a chance for a discount – while also enforcing rules that, according to their handbook, will effectively mitigate floodplain mismanagement.

Some of the rules make sense, and are used on a local level. Other rules don’t make sense, or perhaps aren’t applicable locally, and are reviled and pushed back upon. Unfortunately, the latter option only ends in repercussions from FEMA – and not just in provision of flood insurance.

They take the grant money, too.

Grants are the biggest source of current return-on-investment for local governments. The city of Denham Springs bases their entire road program around it – and it’s great economics, really. For a 90-10 match, the city gets a road widened, overlaid, and in some cases they get drainage improvements and a sidewalk.

What a deal!

The parish bragged about their willingness to take a hit in the road program to save money for grant matching funds – and they should. Three-for-one money the next year means double the overlay at half the cost.

But these matching funds come with a cost – a cost of compliance. That’s where the current sewer ordinance comes into play. The ordinance itself needs language to protect folks from ridiculous tie-in fees that would be imposed based on the current language, but the EPA and DEQ place compliance and grant funding – and fines – in front of parish officials if they don’t do something.

You could say it’s up to the people to make sure those things are beneficial, and in the sewerage case it probably is – nutrient-rich affluent that hasn’t been processed leads to overgrowth in ditches and canals, not to mention toxicity.

But freeboard? Fill dirt? Difficult on development, but necessary evils for FEMA compliance and CRS points – which, at the very least, grant flood insurance discounts.

To bring it home – the Amite River Basin Commission brought in $10 million… over 30 years. That’s a total pot from Livingston, East Baton Rouge, and Ascension tax payers which amounted to $300,000 per year, and not all of that came from the tax.

That $10 million was worth 1/30th of the Comite River Diversion Canal, which is just one project in a long line of many that were needed for the Amite River Basin. How about the $50 million just to dredge the area along Livingston Parish?

It’s a hard pill to swallow, and perhaps tax payers give too much to federal and state government – but the only way to undo it is to convince your state and local representatives to cut taxes and fire a bunch of people.

Which isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

All this amounts to is the continued end to the ‘Free State of Livingston.’

J. McHugh David is editor and publisher of the Livingston Parish News.

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