Thursday, April 13, 2006

Finally! FEMA flood maps!

Emmett Mayer III produced a version of the new FEMA map for Orleans, Jefferson, and part of St. Bernard parishes. The PDF is in the The Times-Picayune. The T-P also has a PDF of the pre-Katrina flood map (again by Emmett Mayer III), and a PDF graphic of the new house elevation requirement (by Dan Swenson).

The Times-Picayune analysis of the new FEMA requirements:

The base flood elevations for the New Orleans area inside the levees, last adjusted in 1984, were unchanged. Many homeowners had feared dramatic increases in minimum elevation standards after Katrina's floodwaters inundated the city, and preserving the current elevations is an indication that federal officials viewed the flood as caused by problems with the levee system, not an overpowering storm. ...

But because of an additional "3 feet above grade" proposed standard, thousands of substantially damaged homes may still face the prospect of being raised to remain eligible for the federal flood insurance program. Under the new elevation recommendations, homes substantially damaged by the flood would need to meet the current base flood elevation -- a comparison of the home's height to the expected water level in a 100-year flood -- and be at least 3 feet above "grade," or the ground surrounding the house. Substantial damage is defined as repairs costing more than 50 percent of the cost to completely rebuild the home.

That means it isn't enough to be at base flood elevation. All new construction and the repair of badly flooded homes must feature at least 3-foot piers.

Well that's about as clear as Katrina floodwater!

Even if you can figure out the calculus for whether or not you have to raise your home, additional questions remain about whether or not it's advisable or affordable to raise your home.

1) Why is FEMA asking homeowners to raise their homes if there's an implicit allowance in the new flood maps that the levees will work the next time?

2) $40,000 to raise a house the first foot, and up to $12,000 for every foot thereafter. That's $64,000 for three feet, and that's just the minimum requirement. FEMA will give you $30,000. That's $34,000 shy of what a homeowner will have to spend to fix a problem created by the failed federal levee system. Will the proposed CDBG money being bandied about in Congress and the White house, and Governor Blanco's LRA plan to provide up to $150,000 cover the cost of raising a home? Or is that money just for home repairs?

We're closer to a solution, but we still need the White House to FOCUS on Hurricane Katrina recovery like it cares -- like it matters!

Instead, we get empty platitudes.
This "brings certainty to some uncertain issues along the greater New Orleans area," said Donald E. Powell, the federal rebuilding coordinator. For a resident, he said, "I think it brings certainty so I can get on with my life to rebuild my home the way that I want it."

Don, how about you prove your confidence by buying a house in Gentilly and putting all of your earthly possessions in it? Really! I think that would be a great demonstration of confidence for residents to see.

President Bush: You're getting there, but New Orleanians are still slowly drowning in hopelessness. Your slow trickle of money is not the clear signal we need to hear.

Senator Mary Landrieu:
"It's like the man who throws you a 30-foot rope when you're drowning 50 feet from shore and says he's gone more than halfway," said Landrieu, who has vowed to block Senate action on Bush nominations to non-defense and judicial posts until the issue is resolved. "A noble gesture, perhaps, but it doesn't get the job done."

Is enough money being spent? What about a commitment from the president for Category 5 storm protection and coastal restoration?
The fragile relationship between federal and local leaders was shattered last month when federal rebuilding officials announced that the cost of reconstructing the levees to federal standards had nearly tripled to $10 billion, and that there may not be enough money to protect the entire region.

Since then, officials have reduced the total required to $7.6 billion by, in part, cutting projects that were deemed redundant. Of that, they are recommending that $6 billion be spent for levees, with the additional $1.6 billion for lower Plaquemines Parish still under review.

I hate to be broken record criticizing the White House, but really, George W. Bush is not doing his job.

Are we getting sound engineering recommendations from the Corps of Engineers? I know some of the engineers working on the levees. Many of them live in New Orleans, and are firmly committed to rebuilding. I have complete confidence that they -- individual engineers and scientists -- know how to do the job right, but as has happened in the past, I wonder if their recommendations are getting muddied as they move up the chain of command and hit the budget process. We need peer review of the final Corps recommendations to make sure that recommendations being made down the chain of command are still there in plans recommended by top brass.

Furthermore, if, as The Times-Picayune reported, more than 60 percent of the levee system will be touched and repaired to hold to pre-Katrina standards for a "fast-moving Category 3 storm" by 2010, why not upgrade the investment to Category 5, and set a target of 2012 for completion. As I've argued before, 2012 will be the 200th anniversary of the entry of Louisiana into the United States. Setting a 2012 date for a massive WPA-type project to rebuild Louisiana's coastal marshes and build stronger levees would send a signal to Louisianians that it's to safe invest in rebuilding our lives here.
Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, said plans for the upgraded levee system would include the replacement of up to 36 of the existing 56 miles of flood walls; armoring the levees; building flood-proof pumping stations near Lake Ponchartrain that could be staffed during hurricanes; and installing permanent floodgates along the canals that broke under the weight of Katrina's storm surge.

The entire system, he said, would be completed by 2010. By June, when the hurricane season begins, he committed the corps to repairing levees to "pre-Katrina levels," with the addition of temporary floodgates on the canals.

Strock's announcement came on the heels of his recent admission that a federal "design failure" caused the 17th Street and London canal levees to breach during Katrina, confirming assessments made by state and independent engineers months ago.

"By 2010, we'll be able to truly say that the levee system will be better and stronger than it's ever been," Strock said.

We need STRONG LEADERSHIP from the White House to get the job done right, but nobody is getting the sense that George W. Bush really gives a shit about New Orleans.


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